China accuses the United States of "bullying" over the popular video app TikTok's handling of user data after President Donald Trump ramped up pressure for its US operations to be sold to an American company.

File photo taken on November 7, 2019.
File photo taken on November 7, 2019. (Reuters)

ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming has told employees there were misunderstandings on Chinese social media about TikTok's situation in the United States and that the company could face more difficulties as anti-Chinese sentiment rose abroad.

His comments in a letter to ByteDance's Chinese employees on Tuesday came after the company and Zhang were heavily criticised on Chinese social media for entering into talks with Microsoft Corp to sell TikTok's US operations.

US President Donald Trump initially dismissed the idea of selling TikTok's US operations to Microsoft but changed his mind following pressure from some advisers and many in the Republican party because banning TikTok could alienate many young voters, Reuters has reported.

READ MORE: What are the implications of a US-TikTok standoff?

'Lots of grievances'

Chinese media first reported the contents of the internal letter. A source confirmed the content of the memo to Reuters.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"I actually understand (the criticism)," Zhang said in the letter. 

"People have high expectations of a company founded by a Chinese person which is going global but have little information about it. With lots of grievances towards the US government, they tend to lash out at us with harsh criticism."

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Mounting pressure

China accused the United States on Tuesday of "bullying" over popular video app TikTok

"This goes against the principles of the market economy and the (World Trade Organization's) principles of openness, transparency and non-discrimination," said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin.

"It's outright bullying."

Since Monday, some users of China's Twitter-like Weibo have said they would uninstall ByteDance's Chinese short video app Douyin and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao because they believed ByteDance had given in too quickly to Washington.

Others urged ByteDance to learn from US giant Google , which opted to pull its search engine out of the Chinese market in 2010 after China asked it to censor its search results, rather than selling off its Chinese operations.

Zhang said some people had misunderstood the US situation. He said Washington's goal was not to force a sale of TikTok's US operations through the Committee of Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) but to ban the app, and there was a legal process ByteDance had no choice but to follow.

Zhang told staff on Monday in another internal letter that the company had started talks with a tech company so it could continue to offer the TikTok app in the United States.

READ MORE: TikTok 'not planning on going anywhere' as Trump ban looms

Rising anti-Chinese sentiment

Zhang also told employees that over the last two years, anti-Chinese sentiment had risen in many countries and the company must brace for more difficulties in the current atmosphere.

The app has been under formal investigation on US national security grounds and Trump said that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok.

He has given ByteDance until mid-September to strike a deal, a tactic that is almost unheard of.

"It has got to be an American company ... it has got to be owned here," Trump said on Monday. "We don't want to have any problem with security."

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies