SAN FRANCISCO, Sept. 20 (Xinhua) -- After three hearings held in three consecutive days, a U.S. judge on Sunday temporarily hit pause on President Donald Trump's ban on WeChat, a Chinese messaging, social-media and mobile-payment app, originally slated to go into effect Sunday night.
Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco issued the order granting motion for preliminary injunction, which determined the restrictions placed on WeChat could violate the Constitutional Amendment rights of its users in the United States.
On Aug. 6, Trump issued an executive order banning U.S. transactions via WeChat, which would take effect on the late night of Sept. 20.
On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department issued the Identification of Prohibited Transactions. "The result is that consumers in the U.S. cannot download or update the WeChat app, use it to send or receive money, and -- because U.S. support for the app by data hosting and content caching will be eliminated -- the app, while perhaps technically available to existing U.S. users, likely will be useless to them," Judge Beeler wrote in her order.
Many WeChat users in the United States, including the U.S. WeChat Users Alliance (USWUA), believe that the app is irreplaceable for them, particularly in the Chinese-speaking and Chinese-American community, and the executive order ignores the livelihood of people who rely on the app.
To fight for the legal rights of all WeChat users in the country, the USWUA sued the Trump administration for the ban. The lawsuit opened in court on Thursday.
The active users of WeChat, developed by the Chinese tech giant Tencent, exceeds 1.2 billion in 2020, including tens of millions of overseas customers. More than 5 million Chinese-Americans are currently living in the United States, and most of them use WeChat.
"What we represent is just the most common WeChat users. Most of us want to use our hard-working hands to create a simple life full of little happiness only," the USWUA wrote on its website.
"However, such a simple wish was deprived by the executive order, like a delicate dandelion in the storm, which might disappear at any moment," it said. "Mr. President has no right to deprive us of our choice with a vague and unclear decree."
Arthur Dong, an active Chinese community leader who runs a photographers' club in the Bay Area, said that if WeChat were banned, he could not find an alternative to manage his business.
WeChat has become an essential part of diverse communities for not only Chinese social communication, but also corporations between Chinese and American people in various fields, Dong said.
"Using WeChat to initiate charity concerts and other events, we have raised and donated more than 100,000 U.S. dollars to support the reconstruction of Northern California's towns destroyed by wildfire," he told Xinhua. "It would be impossible without WeChat."
"I use WeChat every day to communicate with my business partners in China. It is vital to my business. I can't imagine doing business with China without WeChat," said Steve Hoffman, an entrepreneur and angel investor in the Bay Area.
"I use WeChat for negotiating deals in China, arranging meetings, sending documents, sharing news, and just keeping in touch," said Hoffman, CEO and chairman of Founders Space, one of the leading incubators in Silicon Valley. "I think it's shortsighted for Trump to ban WeChat from the U.S. app store."
"Americans, Europeans, Indians, Japanese," WeChat is essential for everyone to do business with China, he said, adding that "without WeChat, Americans will be at a severe disadvantage when working with the Chinese. But maybe that's what Trump wants. This is all part of Trump's decoupling strategy."
NOT LAWFUL BUT POLITICAL
While the Trump administration sought to remove "untrusted" Chinese apps such as WeChat from U.S. mobile app stores in the name of protecting "America's critical telecommunications and technology infrastructure," experts said the executive order serving the administration's political interest was not a lawful exercise of authority by the president and the commerce secretary under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.
Michael Bien, a lawyer for the WeChat users, said "the United States has never shut down a major platform for communications, not even during war times. There are serious First Amendment problems with the WeChat ban, which targets the Chinese American community."
The U.S. actions have fundamentally violated the inherent law of technological development, run counter to the trend and direction of digital economy development, and are harming the common interests of the global community, including China and the United States, said Shen Yi, a scholar on global cyberspace governance at China's Fudan University.
"It's all political," said Hoffman, adding that Trump tried to shift blame onto others for America's problems, and China is one of the others.
"He wants to breakdown communication, so it becomes more difficult for Chinese and Americans to be together. I personally think this strategy is misguided and will wind up hurting both countries. But in the case of WeChat, it will hurt American businesses more," he added.
"The actions against TikTok and WeChat are to weaken China's role in the global digital economy generally, mainly for geopolitical reasons," Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University and a senior United Nations advisor, told Xinhua.
Zuo Xiaodong, vice president of the China Information Security Research Institute, said the U.S. moves reveal the intention to purge Chinese high-tech companies, cripple China's competitiveness, and contain China's development.
VICTORY TO DEFEND
Some U.S. WeChat users have supported the federal judge's order to temporarily halt Trump's ban on WeChat, saying the success of the case has temporarily protected the rights and interests of all WeChat users in the United States.
"I'm relieved to hear that a federal judge temporarily ruled to block the Trump administration from banning WeChat, but this probably won't stop Trump," Hoffman said.
"I believe Trump can work around any temporary legal hurdles. He's done this with immigration and other initiatives. He will just issue a new executive order with different wording until he gets what he wants. That's been his strategy every time judges try to restrict his actions," he added.
Noting that the lawyer team prejudged that the federal government was likely to immediately resort to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for not accepting the preliminary injunction, the USWUA said it is ready to defend the hard-won victory, a powerful response to the current trend of discrimination against the Chinese people in the United States.
This year's hate crimes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, expelling Chinese students and visiting scholars, restricting visas for many Chinese, along with blocking WeChat, all these together, started a new trend of discrimination against Chinese in American history, which can date back to the Chinese Exclusion Act enacted in 1882 and not canceled until 1943, the USWUA said in an article via WeChat.