Macau’s three US casino operators could face further headwinds after US President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday banning eight Chinese apps including WeChat Pay and Alipay.
The executive order, which also names the likes of Tencent’s messaging app QQ and payment app QQ Walley, would see all transactions between US-based people or companies and the eight apps banned. It would also compel the likes of Apple and Google to remove the apps from their US app stores.
“The pace and pervasiveness of the spread in the United States of certain connected mobile and desktop applications and other software developed or controlled by persons in the People’s Republic of China, to include Hong Kong and Macau (China), continue to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” Trump’s executive order read.
There is no guarantee that the order will see the light of day, given that it won’t come into effect until almost a month after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Under US law, Biden has the power to reverse any existing executive order by issuing another.
There are also legal questions yet to be answered following a similar executive order issued by Trump last August banning WeChat and vide-sharing app TikTok. Those orders have been blocked by US federal courts in the wake of multiple lawsuits brought by WeChat owner Tencent and TikTok owner ByteDance, and by app users themselves.
However, should the executive order come to pass, it could have significant implications for Macau’s US-owned operators – Sands China, MGM China and Wynn Macau Ltd.
“While the focus of the Executive Order is on the protection of Americans’ personal and proprietary information, any transactions with the Chinese payment apps by an entity subject to US jurisdiction – including foreign branches – will be prohibited,” explained Victoria White, Special Counsel at Macau law firm MdME, in response to inquiries from IAG.
“Going forwards, the US Secretary of Commerce has been tasked with identifying the transactions and Chinese software app companies that are prohibited under the Executive Order, and this will merit close attention for future implications.”
Other people IAG spoke to also warned of potential geopolitical risk for US operators in Macau given the Trump government’s willingness to go against the private sector to achieve its political goals, and China’s increasing propensity for retaliation.
David Sisk, Melco Resorts & Entertainment’s Chief Operating Officer, Macau Resorts, said last August after Trump issued his order banning WeChat that, “It’s kind of a silly thing in terms of the statement that was made that you’re going to cut that off. You’ve got over a billion people and WeChat is the primary device in which they communicate, it’s a primary device in which a lot of commerce is done as well.
“Our marketing guys, everybody here uses WeChat. I mean, it is the most ubiquitous communication method in the market here. We’ve got great people in terms of how they go out and talk to our customers via WeChat.
“They check up on our customers via WeChat. People send videos, they send voice mails – everything is pretty much done through WeChat. All your social media, everything comes through it. I mean, I think there is no way you’d ever exist without it here.”
José Álvares, partner at Macau’s CA Lawyers, said it was vital that the incoming Biden administration works to mend relationships between the two nations.
“The outlook of a failure could imply further entrenchment by both sides that could risk spilling over, and, let us not get lost in thoughts, Macau is an integral part of China,” he told IAG.
“I would say, however, that it is far from ideal to Macau – we benefit from the presence of different business ideas, to a great extent, a result of a multicultural environment that breeds herein.”