Elon Musk’s quiet, untweeted China journey

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We often hear an excessive amount of about what Elon Musk’s as much as currently, however you might have missed the information final week that he paid a three-day go to to China and met with fairly a couple of high-ranking authorities officers there.

Ever since China lifted most of its pandemic-era journey restrictions in January, international executives have been swarming in. And Musk had good purpose to go: China is a crucial a part of Tesla’s electric-vehicle empire, each as a market and as a manufacturing powerhouse. However because the proprietor of Starlink, SpaceX, and not too long ago Twitter, Musk has a way more difficult relationship with the nation.

There’s little data in English about Musk’s China journey. That’s primarily as a result of Musk, often energetic on the social media platform he simply acquired, stayed very quiet throughout the entire journey. Whereas Twitter is banned in China, individuals have all types of VPN instruments to entry it. Nonetheless, Musk didn’t appear to wish to give the impression that he was on Twitter whereas there. He solely tweeted a single time concerning the journey, after he left China. In reality, he even stopped commenting on different tweets—one thing he usually does dozens of instances each day. 

However from the general public readouts posted by Chinese language authorities web sites and sightings of Musk shared on Chinese language social media, we are able to reconstruct his journey from Tuesday to Thursday.

He had fairly a busy itinerary: in 44 hours, Musk met with at the least three high-level Chinese language officers, dined with the CEO of the world’s largest EV battery provider, and visited Tesla’s manufacturing unit in Shanghai, amongst different issues. 

Musk’s personal jet landed in Beijing on the afternoon of Might 30, native time. He met with Qin Gang, China’s new international minister and former ambassador to the US, the identical day. In line with the ministry’s press launch, Musk stated within the assembly that he strongly opposes decoupling provide chains between the US and China, as a result of the 2 international locations are “interlinked, like conjoined twins inseparable from one another.” That night, he had dinner with Zeng Yuqun, the CEO of CATL, which is a key provider of batteries to Tesla automobiles. 

Musk holding hands with Qin Gang, China's Minister of Foreign Affairs


The subsequent day, he met with two extra Chinese language ministers, these accountable for commerce and know-how. Reuters reported that he additionally visited Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang—China’s sixth-highest-ranking get together official—that afternoon, however the assembly has not been made public by the federal government or Musk. Within the night, he flew to Shanghai and headed to the Tesla Gigafactory, the place he took pictures with workers that he would later put up on Twitter.

Elon and the team of the Shanghai gigafactory pose for a group photo


On the morning of June 1, his final day in China, Musk squeezed in a single final assembly with Chen Jining, the Shanghai get together secretary, earlier than his jet left for Texas at 11:23 a.m.

Musk just isn’t the primary American government to go to China this yr: earlier than him, there have been Apple’s Tim Prepare dinner, Common Motors’s Mary Barra, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, Starbucks’s Laxman Narasimhan, and extra. However up to now, Musk has obtained the most important welcome, each from Chinese language authorities officers and from the individuals on Chinese language social media.

The primary purpose is that China and Tesla have been in a mutually helpful relationship for years. Not solely is China the second-largest marketplace for Tesla, however the Shanghai Gigafactory produced over half of Tesla automobiles offered globally final yr. On the opposite finish, the Shanghai manufacturing unit additionally contributed considerably to native employment and taxation, in addition to making town a hub of EV manufacturing.

Through the strict one-month lockdown in Shanghai final yr, the municipal authorities made additional preparations to verify the manufacturing unit might resume manufacturing even whereas different elements of metropolis life had been on pause. Throughout this go to, Musk acknowledged these efforts and thanked the Chinese language commerce minister.

However there are different issues that complicate the connection between Musk and China.

For one factor, Starlink has lengthy been a priority for Beijing due to its capability to avoid conventional communication blackouts and provide extra satellite tv for pc intelligence. Its software in Ukraine in the course of the struggle, by which China largely stands on the facet of Russia, has made the difficulty clearer. Earlier this yr, it was reported that researchers in China’s navy academies have revealed dozens of papers on the right way to work towards the Starlink satellites. 

On Weibo, the Chinese language equal of Twitter, Musk (or whoever operates his verified account) posted a word on Might 30 that appeared designed to easy issues over a little bit: “The China house program is much extra superior than most individuals notice.”

On the core of Musk’s difficult relationship with China is the truth that his completely different corporations have completely different relationships with the Chinese language authorities. Tesla is exceptionally welcome within the nation; Twitter is an enormous headache for the federal government and is strictly banned; SpaceX and Starlink are someplace in between, representing each a safety danger and a collaboration alternative. 

To date, his possession of the opposite corporations hasn’t triggered Tesla to fall out of favor in China. However on this age of sustained US-China tensions, coping with the Chinese language authorities is a really delicate act for any American firm, and Tesla will most likely be a bellwether. Irrespective of how a lot trolling he likes to do within the US, Musk needed to be extra cautious when he was in China.

What do you consider the pattern of American enterprise executives visiting China? Let me know your ideas at zeyi@technologyreview.com.

Meet up with China

1. Montana’s TikTok ban could possibly be one other “junk web invoice”—extremely politicized and unlikely to outlive judicial assessment. (MIT Expertise Evaluation)

2. Sunday marked the 34th anniversary of the protest and bloodbath in Tiananmen Sq.. 

  • Yearly in Hong Kong, individuals have gathered in a public park to carry a vigil. This yr, the vigil was blocked by a meals carnival hosted by pro-Beijing teams in the identical park. (Wall Road Journal $)
  • Individuals who tried to take candles out had been taken away by police. (Reuters $)
  • The vigils and protests have been carried on by individuals abroad. (CNN)

3. Shein, the Chinese language vogue e-commerce firm that has attracted a big Gen Z following, has employed Washington lobbyists for the primary time, to answer allegations of pressured labor practices. (Politico)

4. Protection officers around the globe are gathering in Singapore this week for the high-level Shangri-la Dialogue. (CNBC)

  • In the meantime, spy masters are having a separate, secret assembly in the identical metropolis. (Reuters $)
  • CIA director Invoice Burns additionally had a secret journey to China final month, assembly Beijing’s intelligence officers. (Monetary Instances $)

5. As Pleasure month begins, China’s LGBTQ communities are dropping their few assist teams as they’re squeezed by the federal government to close down operations. (The Economist $)

6. Native police in China are more and more coping with a brand new sort of rip-off: persons are utilizing generative AI instruments to impersonate others and request cash transfers from the sufferer’s contacts. (Wall Road Journal $)

Misplaced in translation

Would you spend $1 a month to have limitless chats with a simulacrum of your favourite influencer? Xiaoice, a Chinese language AI firm, simply supplied this service. Each Thursday to any extent further, the corporate will launch a brand new “AI clone” of a Chinese language influencer (the primary is designed round a 20-something feminine mannequin named Hu Wenjie, higher identified by her on-line alias 半藏森林). Customers can converse by textual content and voice with such AI chatbots. In the event that they spend 30 RMB ($4.22) a month, the “influencer” will double as an workplace assistant and assist with duties like writing advertising copy. (Why would you need your influencer to do this?) The service has a robust romantic tone: the essential subscription is known as the “relationship mode.” For now, the vast majority of the income go to the influencer, based on a report by Chinese language state broadcaster CCTV.

An "AI clone" of Hu Wenjie, a Chinese influencer

Yet another factor

The most recent viral social media pattern in China is packing a lunch that’s easy and generally too bland to eat and calling it 白人饭—actually, “white individuals meals.” It’s certainly a dig on the fast lunches in American meals tradition, however there are additionally individuals who say they’re doing it to drop pounds or to forgo difficult meals prep.

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