While the United States has long argued for an open global internet, Mr. Trump’s bans against foreign services like WeChat and TikTok have begun to reverse that trend. His moves echo earlier actions by China, which has long banned American services like Twitter and Facebook that it cannot censor directly.
But while Chinese officials can dictate which companies are allowed to operate in that country, U.S. law prevents Mr. Trump from having the same kind of iron fist to quash foreign business.
“What this shows is that in the American system, there are still limits to how much the executive branch can unilaterally influence and control private sector businesses,” said Geoffrey Gertz, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, calling it a “key difference from China.”
“Although the Trump administration is clearly trying to push these limits, it is still constrained,” Mr. Gertz said. “Businesses have channels for pushing back, such as through the court system, that aren’t necessarily available in other places like China.”
Thomas R. Burke, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said they were “grateful” for the decision.
“Never before has a president sought to ban an entire social media platform — used by a minority community to communicate — with such discriminatory animus and haste,” he said.
In their arguments, the plaintiffs also pointed to the president’s anti-Chinese statements around the time he issued the WeChat order — including referring to the coronavirus pandemic as the “China flu,” and saying that China would own the United States if he was not re-elected — arguing that such comments were aimed at bolstering his re-election campaign.
The U.S. government, in arguing its side, described China’s tech industry as a threat to national security, citing reports that identified Tencent and WeChat as a growing risk and a source of censorship and Chinese government propaganda. At a hearing before Judge Beeler on Saturday, a lawyer from the Justice Department said that the order was well tailored to address the threat “posed by WeChat and not penalize people who speak only for the purpose of providing their personal or business information.”