Elon Musk’s Unprecedented Trip to China
Category Technology Friday - June 9 2023, 13:18 UTC - 8 months ago Elon Musk made a three-day visit to China to meet with high-ranking government officials in Beijing and Shanghi and express his opposition to the decoupling of US and China supply chains. His visit highlights the positive business relations between Tesla and the Chinese government, and the potential implications of SpaceX's Starlink project.
Friday - June 9 2023, 13:18 UTC - 8 months ago
Elon Musk made a three-day visit to China to meet with high-ranking government officials in Beijing and Shanghi and express his opposition to the decoupling of US and China supply chains. His visit highlights the positive business relations between Tesla and the Chinese government, and the potential implications of SpaceX's Starlink project.
We usually hear too much about what Elon Musk’s up to lately, but you may have missed the news last week that he paid a three-day visit to China and met with quite a few high-ranking government officials there.
There’s little information in English about Musk’s China trip. That’s primarily because Musk, usually active on the social media platform he just acquired, stayed very quiet during the whole trip. While Twitter is banned in China, people have all sorts of VPN tools to access it. Still, Musk didn’t seem to want to give the impression that he was on Twitter while there. He only tweeted a single time about the trip, after he left China. In fact, he even stopped commenting on other tweets—something he normally does dozens of times every day.But from the public readouts posted by Chinese government websites and sightings of Musk shared on Chinese social media, we can reconstruct his trip from Tuesday to Thursday.Musk’s private jet landed in Beijing on the afternoon of May 30, local time. He met with Qin Gang, China’s new foreign minister and previous ambassador to the US, the same day. According to the ministry’s press release, Musk said in the meeting that he strongly opposes decoupling supply chains between the US and China, because the two countries are "interlinked, like conjoined twins inseparable from each other." That evening, he had dinner with Zeng Yuqun, the CEO of CATL, which is a key supplier of batteries to Tesla cars.
CHINESE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS .
The next day, he met with two more Chinese ministers, those in charge of commerce and technology. Reuters reported that he also visited Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang—China’s sixth-highest-ranking party official—that afternoon, but the meeting has not been made public by the government or Musk. In the evening, he flew to Shanghai and headed to the Tesla Gigafactory, where he took photos with employees that he would later post on Twitter.
ELON MUSK VIA TWITTER .
On the morning of June 1, his last day in China, Musk squeezed in one last meeting with Chen Jining, the Shanghai party secretary, before his jet left for Texas at 11:23 a.m.
The main reason is that China and Tesla have been in a mutually beneficial relationship for years. Not only is China the second-largest market for Tesla, but the Shanghai Gigafactory produced over half of Tesla cars sold globally last year. On the other end, the Shanghai factory also contributed significantly to local employment and taxation, as well as making the city a hub of EV production.
During the strict one-month lockdown in Shanghai last year, the municipal government made extra arrangements to make sure the factory could resume production even while other parts of city life were on pause. During this visit, Musk acknowledged those efforts and thanked the Chinese commerce minister.
For one thing, Starlink has long been a concern for Beijing because of its capacity to circumvent traditional communication blackouts and offer additional satellite intelligence. Its application in Ukraine during the war, in which China largely stands on the side of Russia, has made the issue clearer. Earlier this year, it was reported that Chinese officials asked SpaceX for detailed information about the system during a meeting between Musk and Chinese leaders in Beijing.
Regardless of the motive, Musk's unique China trip demonstrated the level of business relations established between the carmaker and Chinese government. The fact that Musk had access to senior officials during a superpower rivalry speaks volumes about the sentiment—not only between the Chinese government and Tesla, but Musk himself.