US judge halts order to remove WeChat from app stores

A US judge blocked the US Commerce Department from requiring Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google to remove Chinese-owned messaging app WeChat for downloads by late Sunday.

US Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in San Francisco said in an order that WeChat users who filed a lawsuit "have shown serious questions going to the merits of the First Amendment claim, the balance of hardships tips in the plaintiffs' favor," Reuters reported.

Beeler’s preliminary injunction also blocked the Commerce order that would have barred other transactions with WeChat in the United States that could have degraded the site’s usability for current US users.

The US Commerce Department and the White House did not immediately comment.

On Friday, the US Commerce Department issued an order citing national security grounds to block the app from US app stores owned by Tencent Holdings.

Commerce Department officials who spoke with reporters on the condition of anonymity Friday explained the next steps for WeChat users in the United States.

“We expect there may be some usability for users in the United States with the app but given the fact that WeChat is heavily reliant on content delivery services in the United States to optimize the app and make sure that content can be delivered with the necessary speeds,” a Commerce Department official said. “Users will experience some dysfunction and latency to the point where there will be an outage or a message or something will timeout. So, we do expect it may be usable but it may not be particularly functional after Sunday,” the official added. 

Commerce Department officials also said on a call with reporters that they were preparing for a long legal battle.

China's Ministry of Commerce said Saturday it is resolutely opposed to the US move to block downloads of WeChat and TikTok apps.

In the absence of any evidence, the US has repeatedly used state power to suppress the two enterprises for unwarranted reasons, which seriously disrupted their normal business activities, undermined the confidence of international investors in the US investment environment and damaged the normal global economic and trade order, the ministry said in an online statement.

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