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China-US tensions set to be defining issue of our time - and TikTok 'threat' is alarming Washington

One revealing exchange spelt out the reason that America's top intelligence officials believe TikTok is a threat to US national security.

The vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Marco Rubio, asked the Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, a few simple questions.

Rubio: "Could they use TikTok to control data on millions of users?"

FBI director: "Yes."

Rubio: "Could they use it to control the software on millions of devices given the opportunity to do so?"

FBI director: "Yes."

Rubio: "Could they use it to drive narratives like to divide Americans against each other? For example, let's say China wants to invade Taiwan, to make sure that Americans are seeing videos arguing why Taiwan belongs to China; why the US should not intervene?"

FBI director: "Yes."

It was one of the numerous moments when the Chinese-owned and globally popular social media app came up at this annual committee hearing on worldwide threats, with testimony from all the leaders of key intelligence community agencies.

The TikTok threat provides a tangible headline and will resonate with millions of TikTok users in America and beyond.

Indeed, there is more than a little angst at the political implications of a US government decision to ban the app in America.

How will young voters react to being told they can't use the app they are seemingly addicted to? The intel chiefs' response to that was essentially 'tell them that China is gobbling up all their personal data'.

But beyond the TikTok headline, the central theme which ran through this hearing was China.

Read more:
TikTok 'screams' of US national security concerns, FBI chief warns
China accuses US of 'abusing state power' following TikTok bans
TikTok banned from EU Commission phones over cyberattack fears

This Capitol Hill spectacle provides the rare opportunity to hear directly from America's top intelligence officials and China came up again and again.

Of course, there was talk of Russia, Iran, domestic extremist terror threats and even the strain on American society of gun violence and opioid drug use. (There have been over 100 mass shootings in America so far this year and 100,000 Americans die annually from opioid abuse. Absorb that.)

But the central thread running through the two-hour televised hearings with senators was the threat posed by the government in Beijing.

At times it feels like there is almost an inevitability to future conflict with China.

The cable news channels constantly scream 'The China Threat'.

Spy balloons, shot down, are pushing the geopolitical strain to the limit.

Chinese ownership of American land is riling politicians. The race to have the most sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) platforms has genuinely existential consequences.

Some say forget the situation between Ukraine and the West; if that is not a sideshow then it is a precursor for what could come with China.

The China-US relationship is set to be the defining issue of our time and that of our children.