Trump’s order on WeChat came after a similar injunction against ByteDance Ltd.’s TikTok, the viral video service the White House accuses of jeopardizing national security. But while ByteDance’s business outside of TikTok is largely confined to home, Tencent is central to the global distribution of games and a major conduit for American companies that sell products in the world’s No. 2 economy.
Apple, for instance, makes the majority of its iPhones in China, where WeChat is the oil that lubricates communications both on the factory floor and in the boardroom. In a worst-case scenario, American consumer brands like Walmart and Starbucks Corp. may be prevented from selling goods and services to Chinese buyers via WeChat’s “mini-programs” in China -- now one of the fastest-growing avenues for e-commerce. China accounts for about 9% of Walmart’s international sales and is its fastest-growing market.
“If you can’t pay for Starbucks coffee on WeChat, people will stop drinking it,” said BOCOM International analyst Connie Gu, commenting on the extreme cases where American brands are banned from using WeChat as a payment method.
Less quantifiable is the spillover effect on the gaming industry.
Tencent ranked as the world’s biggest games publisher by revenue in 2019, according to Newzoo data, and it collaborates with U.S. industry leaders like Activision and Electronics Arts Inc. It also holds a large stake in Fortnite maker Epic Games Inc. and owns League of Legends developer Riot Games Inc. That sprawling but somewhat stealthy gaming empire, deeply rooted in the U.S., was deemed under threat when the WeChat sanction was first announced, though a U.S. official later clarified that the action only involved the messaging service and not its parent.
Chinese language blogs were afire this morning with discussion of the WeChat ban. It is the primary vehicle many people use to communicate, shop, play and remit money across the Chinese diaspora. If India’s ban of Chinese apps is any guide, they will disappear from app-stores but will remain on consumers’ phones. That means existing users will still have access but will not have access to future updates.Click HERE to subscribe to Fuller Treacy Money Back to top