Officials have also been considering potential national security risks from other Chinese internet and social media services, including Tencent’s WeChat, which had more than a billion active monthly users worldwide in the first quarter of 2020.
“These companies cannot claim that they don’t follow the orders of the party, that’s just not credible,” said Derek Scissors, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who tracks Chinese investment worldwide. “Chinese firms don’t have a choice.”
TikTok and the venture funds it counts as its major investors have tried to reassure the Trump administration — including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is in charge of the national security review panel — that it has walled off its China operations from other global activities, people familiar with the conversations said. The firm recently pulled its operations out of Hong Kong after the city imposed new national security laws that would bring Chinese-style censorship to residents. Officials have also raised potential changes to its corporate structure that could include moving its global headquarters during discussions with U.S. officials, these people said.
The company has added well-connected lobbyists, including Mr. Beckerman, the former president of the Internet Association and a longtime Republican congressional aide, and David J. Urban, who ran Mr. Trump’s campaign in Pennsylvania and has been described by the president as “one of my good friends.” He is also a West Point classmate of Mr. Pompeo and Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary.
Mr. Beckerman has hired 15 lobbyists and communications staff for ByteDance, including aides to Paul Ryan, the former Wisconsin lawmaker and speaker of the House, and Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic whip.
ByteDance has also tapped its prominent investors for help. General Atlantic, whose chief executive, William E. Ford, sits on ByteDance’s board, has been advising TikTok on lobbying strategy, and SoftBank, which invested in ByteDance in 2018, has suggested new Washington hires in the past, said two people familiar with the matter.