APRIL 9 — I am a big fan of TikTok — I love the randomness of content the algorithm brings you. You never know what to expect.
However, these past weeks, I have been seeing an increase of American content creators sharing their “coping” strategy for the TikTok ban by America.
Along with this has been so many snippets of the questioning by the US Congress of the TikTok CEO.
Now there are many arguments for and against the ban but there has emerged one consensus.
The CEO is impressive.
In front of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chew Shou Zi had to defend his company from allegations of being too close to the Chinese government and inability to protect the privacy/data of its US users.
Failure to answer the questions satisfactorily could lead to the United States either banning or forcing the sale of Tik Tok within its jurisdiction.
The five-hour hearing with hard-hitting questions raised by a number of US congressmen was broadcast “live” attracting attention from around the world.
The world’s most popular social media platform vs the world’s most powerful nation with suspicion of China’s role in Tik Tok on open display. But in the middle of it all was neither an American nor a citizen of China but a Singaporean.
Chew Shou Zi is a local boy made good — a student of Hwa Chong Institution, former NS-man — just like everyone else, and this really got the people of our Little Red Dot excited.
We don’t usually see Singaporeans strutting about on the world stage — our politicians are often effective but generally discreet but here suddenly was a son of our soil facing the world.
Chew has been CEO of TikTok since 2021 — previously he was the company’s CFO and before that, he was CFO of the smartphone giant XiaoMi.
A successful but low-key banker and finance executive, he was suddenly facing hours of questioning from senior US politicians. It never looked like it was going to be a fair fight and it wasn’t.
The US politicians took turns asking questions about China’s access to TikTok’s data and Chinese influence on TikTok’s algorithm.
They brought up questions of privacy and spoke at length about the harm social media algorithms can do to young children.
In the face of hours of questioning by professional speakers, Shou gave a good account of himself.
He came across as calm, genuine and helpful while the US politicians seemed aggressive and almost blinded by suspicion and fear of China.
Watching the grilling, you sometimes wished he would answer more forcefully. Privacy and harmful algorithms aren’t just problems for TikTok — US social media giants have awful records in both these spheres.
But actually it wasn’t his job to debate the congressmen, he was there to make clear that TikTok wasn’t a threat and was at least willing to cooperate with US officials.
I think he did that job as well as anyone could. He showed quite exceptional patience and was fundamentally a great advertisement for Singapore talent.
His performance brought pride to many Singaporeans. While Singapore has long been home to many global businesses, we rarely see Singaporeans at the helm or in the limelight.
Foreign or foreign-born CEOs are the norm with Singaporeans packing the middle management.
But Chew showed us local talent can function at the very highest level and hopefully more overseas companies take note of this.
Singapore’s unique education system also enables Singaporeans to play this sort of role.
With a strong focus on second language, Chew is fluent in both English and Mandarin which allows him to function within the C-suites of major Chinese companies.
Innately familiar with both Western and Asian culture and generally good at being hardworking and low key, Singaporeans should prove useful to corporations around the world and hopefully Chew will blaze a trail of corporate stardom other young Singaporeans will emulate.
Also, for the very worried content creators, we can only hope TikTok remains not banned in the United States as that would be a loss for everyone.
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.