Trump’s TikTok dare a ticking time bomb

Art imitates life, but the ongoing tussle over TikTok’s ownership has begun to resemble the goofy sketches that made TikTok the most downloaded app in history.

A compromise solution reportedly crafted by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposes cross-ownership so complicated that it’s impossible to tell whether China’s ByteDance, TikTok’s inventor, or American investors will control a new holding company.

US President Donald Trump initially blessed the compromise but then declared that he would veto any deal that didn’t include US control—whatever that turns out to mean. Meanwhile, China’s state press indicated that Beijing would veto any deal that imposed American control.

The result might be the end of TikTok’s operations in the United States—and Beijing doesn’t seem to care. That leaves Trump with a choice between shutting down an enormously popular social media app and incurring the wrath of a large swath of voters or signing on to a face-saving deal that gives US investors and corporations notional control, while leaving the core technology in Chinese hands.