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Michael Schuman

China Is Carrying a Small Stick

There’s a reason it hasn’t followed through on so many of its blistering threats of economic retaliation against the U.S.

China has thrown a wrench into the TikTok deal. 

China has thrown a wrench into the TikTok deal. 

Photographer: Brent Lewin/Bloomberg

China has flexed its muscles in the tussle over Chinese video-swapping app TikTok, using new export controls to complicate plans to sell the company’s U.S. operations to American investors. A proposed deal between TikTok’s Beijing-based parent, Bytedance Ltd., and Oracle Corp. now hangs on the verdict of Chinese regulators.

But the TikTok case is also something of an exception. As China’s relations with the U.S. deteriorate, Beijing has shown it is often incapable of following through on its blistering threats of retaliation. And for that, China’s leaders have no one to blame but themselves.