Chinese Americans breathe easier as WeChat lives on

A federal judge in California blocked the Trump administration’s ban Sunday of the popular Chinese messaging app WeChat, leaving Chinese Americans in Sacramento relieved but apprehensive about their access to the app.

San Francisco-based federal judge Laurel Beeler stopped the Trump administration’s order forcing Apple and Google to remove WeChat from their app stores, which had been set to go into effect Sunday at midnight. Removing the app from their stores would have prevented Tencent, which owns WeChat, from updating or debugging the app for American users, which would eventually render the service useless.

“(The WeChat conflict) is not going to be ended right here, but I feel a global sigh of relief,” said Evette Tsang, a Sacramento resident from China whose family overseas only uses WeChat to communicate.

In the order, Beeler wrote that the WeChat users who filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration “have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim.”

Nineteen million Americans use WeChat daily. Many Chinese Americans typically use the app to communicate with family and friends, as it’s one of the few messaging apps not banned by the Chinese government.

In Sacramento, WeChat is also a necessary tool for doing business and for community organizers in the Chinese American community. Tsang, who owns a health insurance company, needs WeChat to reach low-income Chinese clients whose lack of English-language skills makes it difficult for them to pick up another messaging app.

Some, like Stephen Zhou, president of Sacramento’s U.S.-China Railroad Friendship Association, downloaded new apps like Telegram in preparation for the possibility of losing WeChat. Most of his friends are still on WeChat though, Zhou said, and his family wouldn’t necessarily know how to navigate a new app.

“(WeChat is) too important for Chinese people to communicate with people back home,” Zhou said. “The Trump administration might (see a security risk). I just don’t see the proof.”

But even with this temporary stay of WeChat’s removal, several Chinese Americans in Sacramento expressed lingering uncertainty about how long WeChat will be able to survive in the U.S.

“Right now, I’m kind of worried,” Tsang said. “Either China is watching me, or the U.S. is watching me when I use (WeChat). I feel watched”

The Trump administration has said the WeChat ban was driven by security concerns over China’s access to American users’ data. But experts have said the decision should be interpreted as a show of force against the Chinese government amid the growing breakdown of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China.

“Should we care about a Chinese mainland student here writing home about what terrible food America has?” said UC Davis economics professor Wing Thye Woo in a previous interview with The Bee. “No. That cannot be the serious reason. The serious reason is the military has now gotten into the (U.S. and China) trade war as well.”