Elon Musk gets close to China

August 16, 2022

Any area that contributes to a more sustainable future deserves our investment, says Elon Musk in an article in Chinese publication

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CEO of Tesla Inc. Elon Musk — Reuters

CEO of Tesla Inc. Elon Musk has contributed a column to the official publication of China's Cyberspace Administration, a strong agency that handles information security for companies ranging from Alibaba to Tencent and collaborates with other government agencies to restrict online content, Bloomberg reported.

For the July edition of the CAC's official magazine, the billionaire laid out a recognisable vision for how technology can ensure humanity's future, joining local industry luminaries such as Ant Group Co. Chairman Eric Jing, who offered his thoughts on responsible technology advancement that fosters diversity and inclusion.

These views reflect President Xi Jinping's administration's broader goals, which have been working for more than a year to limit the power of tech leaders such as Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. That crackdown, which resulted in the loss of more than $1 trillion in market value, began when regulators halted Ant's record IPO in 2020 and peaked around the time Didi Global Inc. delisted – an effort spearheaded by the CAC.

Musk's musings are reminiscent of previous outreach by Meta Platforms Inc.'s Mark Zuckerberg and Alphabet Inc.'s Sundar Pichai, when US internet companies hoped to collaborate with the world's No. 2 economy. The Tesla CEO is also embroiled in a legal battle with Twitter Inc. over an acquisition that he characterised as critical to free speech before attempting to back out of the deal. In China, the social media service is officially banned.

“Musk is trying to walk the same tightrope that Zuckerberg and Pichai walked before him -- but these are different times,” told Kendra Schaefer, head of tech policy research at Trivium China to Bloomberg. “Tech execs trying to maintain healthy relationships in China are increasingly seeing that decision being taken out of their hands by either Chinese regulations, US users, or the US government. If Musk isn’t sitting in front of a congressional committee within a year being grilled on his relationship with China, I’ll be flabbergasted.”

The Pekingnology and Beijing Channel blogs first reported on Musk's column.

China is the world's major market for electric vehicles, and Shanghai is home to Tesla's most productive factory. Contemporary Amperex Technology Co., the world's prominent manufacturer of EV batteries based in Fujian province, is one of its suppliers. While some Chinese customers have protested about safety, quality, and customer service issues, and Tesla's domestic data collection has come under scrutiny, Musk has labelled the market as critical to the company's growth plans.

As of 8:50am Monday in New York, before the start of regular trading, Tesla shares were little changed.

Musk has been chastised for his close ties to Beijing after attending Xi's World Internet Conference in September to extol the virtues of international cooperation and opening up a new showroom in China's Xinjiang region in January. A Tesla China representative confirmed Musk wrote the article but declined to comment further.

"I want to do everything in my power to maximise the use of technology to help humanity achieve a better future," Musk wrote. "As a result, any area that contributes to a more sustainable future deserves our investment."

Musk stated in the column that the magazine, whose inaugural issue was published this year, approached him for the article. The entrepreneur discussed his companies, including Neuralink Corp., which is developing brain-machine interfaces, and the humanoid Tesla Bot, the first prototype of which will be unveiled soon. He addresses the column to his "Chinese friends" and describes the mission of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. to build a self-sustaining city on Mars.

Musk wrote, "I hope more people will join us in our fight to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy." "I also invite more like-minded Chinese partners to join us in investigating clean energy, artificial intelligence, human-machine collaboration, and space exploration in order to create a future worth waiting for."


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