China Hawks Dine on Seared Branzino And Lament Threat to US

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(Bloomberg) -- Peter Thiel likened US-China ties to a codependent marriage and lamented the rise of TikTok at a dinner for venture capitalists and lawmakers a day before the app’s chief executive testifies on Capitol Hill.

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Thiel compared the Chinese-owned app to homelessness — “a really obvious problem,” as he put it — in a brief speech to the guests, according to people who attended the dinner and weren’t authorized to disclose details to the press. The event was hosted by the Hill & Valley Forum with financial backing from Thiel’s Founders Fund as well as 137 Ventures and Caffeinated Capital.

The aim of the group — some of whom have a financial interest in TikTok’s competitors and emerging AI startups — was to press home the urgency of the China threat to lawmakers whose anti-Beijing rhetoric is already running high.

Milling around the cocktail hour, tech executives mingled with Washington’s policy elite, including House of Representatives Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, a frequent TikTok critic, was also on the guest list, among numerous other lawmakers, think-tank analysts and tech financiers.

AI startup founders chatted with lobbyists, asking, “Are you from the Hill or the Valley?” One group of guests advocated for a kind of national guard of technology, ready to address any threat, be it a global pandemic or a cyber-attack from China.

Read more: TikTok CEO Chew Set to Enter a Washington Fight He Can’t Win

From cocktails, they went to dinner, where the main course was a choice between seared chicken with kaffir lime or seared branzino with champagne and yuzu sauce. Dessert was a lemon meringue mousse tower.

While the organizers said the dinner timing was coincidental, it took place less than a day before TikTok Chief Executive Officer Shou Chew testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he faced harsh questions from lawmakers who see the app as a grave threat to US national security.

Critics point to the risk that Beijing can gain access to data hoovered up by the app, which is owned by ByteDance Ltd., one of China’s largest internet companies. In his testimony on Thursday, Shou said US users’ data is walled off from China. He argued that TikTok is “the only company that provides this level of transparency.”

Thiel hit on familiar themes in a brief speech at the start of the dinner, citing Apple Inc.’s deep ties to China and lamenting that Silicon Valley no longer focuses on “the hard technologies,” according to the people who attended the dinner. He compared the US-China relationship to “sort of a bad form of codependency” and said “it doesn’t help in a codependent relationship to have endless talk therapy.”

Thiel, whose net worth the Bloomberg Billionaires Index puts at $8.2 billion, compared TikTok to homelessness in the US.

“It’s kind of embarrassing we can’t solve it in our cities, and we should have solved it a long time ago,” he said, according to the people. “At the same time, there’s also a risk that like the homeless problem has become an all-purpose excuse for not doing anything about anything else.”

Vinod Khosla, following Thiel, warned it was time for the US and Western allies to cement their technological superiority over China, saying the world wasn’t paying enough attention to what had become “much more of a winner-take-all economy.” His remarks were also conveyed by people in the room.

“The really scary technology is AI technology,” he said, warning that whoever dominates it will have “huge economic power.”

--With assistance from Annmarie Hordern.

(Updates with backing by Caffeine Capital in second paragraph.)

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