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Trump Team Signals U.S. Firms Can Use WeChat in China After Ban

(Bloomberg) — The Trump administration is signaling that U.S. companies can continue to use the WeChat messaging app in China, according to several people familiar with the matter, two weeks after President Donald Trump ordered a U.S. ban on the Chinese-owned service.

The administration is still working through the technical implications of how to enforce such a partial ban on the app, which is owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd., one of China’s biggest companies. A key question is whether the White House would allow Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to carry the app in its global app stores outside of the U.S., according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The intention is to prohibit any downloads or updates of the WeChat app in U.S. app stores, two of the people said. U.S. companies with China operations such as Starbucks Corp. could still advertise and process transactions with Chinese consumers via the app, they said.

The White House and Tencent didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The move follows Trump’s Aug. 6 executive order prohibiting U.S. people and companies from doing business with WeChat from mid-September, which set off alarm bells across U.S. companies with operations in China. WeChat is an indispensable part of doing business in the country and selling products to consumers there, who use the app for everything from buying coffee to airline tickets.

In recent weeks, lobbyists in the U.S. went into overdrive, asking staffers in the White House and the Commerce Department about the logistics and intention of the WeChat executive order, according to people familiar with the matter.

Some corporate lobbying groups have been pushing the administration to narrow the ban’s scope.

“We are talking to everyone who will listen to us,” said Craig Allen, president of the US-China Business Council, whose group represents companies including Walmart Inc. and General Motors Co. “WeChat is a little like electricity. You use it everywhere” in China, Allen said.

He didn’t confirm conversations with the administration, but said his group has been trying to illustrate the “downsides to an expansive interpretation of the order.”

(Updates with lobbying push from sixth paragraph)

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