Shares in Chinese tech giant Tencent plunged by more than 10 percent Friday as news of a U.S. WeChat ban shook domestic financial markets.
The Trump administration’s move to stop U.S. entities from making “transactions” with the app’s owners—Tencent Holdings Ltd.—caused confusion among traders, swiping roughly $34.6 billion from the firm’s market value, Bloomberg reported.
Stock prices plunged by about 10 percent in Hong Kong but closed down around half that figure after it was clarified that WeChat was likely to be the sole focus of Trump’s order—not the vast amount of other companies Tencent is invested in.
Enforcement against WeChat—a major presence in China used for social media, chats and payments all-in-one—is expected to be in line with Bytedance-owned TikTok, which has also been given 45 days before the restrictions come into force.
“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users. This collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information,” the WeChat-specific order reads.
The administration also said the app collects the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the U.S., giving the government a way to track citizens who “may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”
Research has repeatedly shown how WeChat regularly censors certain keywords in its chats. The app is believed to have more than one billion users globally.
The executive order’s fine print was ultimately vague, indicating that after 45 days any transactions to WeChat’s owners from anyone inside the U.S. would be banned.
The Trump administration’s order covered “any property subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with Tencent Holdings Ltd., or any subsidiary of that entity.”
Tencent, a vast conglomerate holding company with a $500 billion market cap, either owns or has stakes in several large video game developers and publishers. The order immediately led to concerns a knock-on effect could ripple through the industry.
Tencent owns Riot Games, developer of the popular and lucrative League of Legends mobile game. It also has a 40 percent stake in Epic Games, developer of the battle royale mega-hit Fortnite, and a stake of more than 10 percent in Bluehole, a video game company whose subsidiary made PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).
After PUBG was banned in China in 2017, Tencent secured the rights to distribute it in the country. The tech giant’s portfolio also includes smaller stakes in Ubisoft, Activision Blizzard and Supercell, the developer of Clash of Clans and Clash Royale.
After Trump’s order was published, speculation spiked that U.S.-based players of these titles would not longer be able to spend money on the games or apps.
The rumors calmed, however, after LA Times tech reporter Sam Dean got confirmation from the White House game companies owned or linked to Tencent will not be affected by the planned restrictions. The order is only intended to only impact WeChat.
“This was pretty much impossible to tell,” he wrote. “‘We just mean WeChat” is the WH line for tonight. But banning all transactions on/with WeChat alone is still WILD.”
It remains unclear if the scope of the executive orders on TikTok and WeChat will evolve in the coming weeks as the 45 day deadline approaches. A Tencent spokesperson told CNN the company “is reviewing the executive order to get a full understanding.”
Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst at Niko Partners who specializes on the gaming industry, tweeted: “Clarification that this is just specific to WeChat for now, which is already a fairly notable ban in itself due to how it is used for contact with family, friends and business associates in China by people outside the country.
“Doesn’t make sense just to ban WeChat though. Maybe they simply didn’t know what they were putting out… so had to quickly backtrack. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
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