On a three-day visit to China, Tesla boss Elon Musk received an enthusiastic welcome from both Chinese authorities and internet users. Some even called him “Comrade Musk.” The charismatic and controversial entrepreneur was received with great pomp in Beijing by Foreign Minister Qin Gang on the day of his arrival, Tuesday, May 30, then by the minister of industry, the minister of commerce and the vice premier, Ding Xuexiang, a close friend of President Xi Jinping.
This treatment was worthy of a minister and symbolic, at a time when tensions between China and the United States are at their highest: Beijing refuses, for example, to resume the military dialogue proposed by Washington. At the same time, the Chinese authorities are seeking to attract foreign investment to breathe new life into an economy struggling to recover from three years of isolation due to the zero-Covid policy.
In Beijing, Musk was welcomed to a dinner banquet consisting of 16 courses by Robin Zeng, head of CATL, the world’s number-one electric car battery manufacturer. The two companies are planning to build a battery factory in the United States. Tesla sold 439,770 vehicles in China in 2022, up 37% year-on-year. But the Gigafactory Shanghai, inaugurated at the end of 2019, is capable of producing 1.1 million cars a year, enough to fuel exports to other regions, making China Tesla’s leading production base in the world.
‘Apparently the only American welcome in China’
Tesla’s busy boss was there late on Wednesday evening for a reception attended by around 100 employees. On June 1, he met the Chinese Communist Party’s general secretary in Shanghai, who encouraged him to step up his investments in the city. In April, Musk announced the construction of an industrial battery factory in Shanghai.
Also the owner of Twitter, Musk has not published a single message in three days on China’s censored social network. In October 2022, he suggested that the independent island of Taiwan could be integrated into China as a “special administrative zone,” drawing the ire of the Taiwanese, but the congratulations of China’s ambassador to Washington.
Musk “is apparently the only American welcome in China”, noted a user on the Chinese social network Weibo, quoted by Agence France-Presse. “Biden must be wondering why China refuses his invitations to meet with top US officials, but rolls out the red carpet for Musk,” quipped another.
These messages sum up a contradiction that has been apparent in recent months: Beijing is constantly asserting its openness, but actions don’t always follow suit. On May 30, Qin Gang promised Musk that China would “unswervingly promote a high level of opening up to the outside world” and create a “better market-oriented, rule-of-law-based and internationalized business environment.” At the same time, the authorities have taken measures that make foreign investors wary, such as strengthening a law on espionage, accompanied by a campaign against foreign auditing and consulting firms since March.