In China, Elon Musk is walking on eggshells.
Tesla's billionaire CEO describes himself as one of the most vocal opponents of free speech. He'd claimed that protecting free speech was one of the reasons why he sought $44 billion for the microblogging website Twitter (TWTR).
(He has withdrawn the idea, but the platform is vying for him, and a trial is scheduled for mid-October.)
Despite its censorship and control of all dissent, Beijing is often criticized. What are the ways to reconcile these two different approaches?
Musk must find the balance between the two. China is a major market for Tesla as it strives to dominate the worldwide electric-vehicle market. Tesla is currently the industry leader in the manufacture and sales of electric vehicles.
Musk Writes an Essay for a Magazine Run by China's Chief Censor
Muskseemsto has chosen not to deceive the Chinese authorities, something that he often dismisses. It goes without saying, then, that he'll take flak for writing an article for China Cyberspace Magazine, which is run by China's national internet regulator and censor.
According to Reuters, the CAC launched a hotline to report any online threats against the Chinese Communist Party in April 2021.
Musk's op-ed column comes as tensions between the US and China are high due to the visits of American lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to Taiwan.
Musk lays forth his vision for the future in this piece published in the magazine's July issue: that of a world in which technology will assist in ensuring humanity's future.
Yang Liu, a journalist for the Chinese state press agency Xinhua, translated the column into English. It was published in his Substack newsletter, the Beijing Channel.
Musk claims that the magazine suggested that he write the essay. It was not his intention, according to the tech giant. He claims that he was placed in a difficult position and could not deliberately refuse, at the risk of alienating the Chinese authorities.
"I am pleased to share with my Chinese friends some of my views on the future of technology and humanity," said the world's richest man.
Tesla owns a factory in Shanghai, which is crucial to the company's global ambitions. Tesla's temporary closure in March and April due to a lockdown will wreak havoc on the company's production and deliveries.
Musk sent a tweet to Giga Shanghai congratulating them on their millionth car, claiming, "Total Teslas have now more than 3 million units."
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Zuckerberg had also favored Beijing before Musk.
Musk is not the first CEO of an American multinational to take drastic measures to avoid enticing Beijing. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Meta Platforms (META) (Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram), and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet (Google) (GOOGL) have both tried this balancing act in the past.
Zuckerberg made China his number one priority a few years ago, when Facebook was aggressively expanding internationally. In 2009, China banned the social network, and Zuckerberg wanted to remove it.
Facebook's journey back to China was a golden opportunity. Zuckerberg multiplied his efforts to rekindle friendships with Beijing. For example, he delivered a speech in Mandarin at Tsinghua University in 2015.
He was proud to state that he loves Chinese literature.
Despite his efforts, the Chinese market has remained closed to Facebook, and Zuckerberg has since become one of the most vocal opponents of Chinese censorship.
Musk said in his column that he wants to do everything we can to maximize technology's use to help humanity achieve a better future. "To that end, any area that contributes to a long-term future is worthy of our investment."
"Whether it's Tesla, Neuralink, or SpaceX, these firms were formed with the ultimate aim of improving human life's future and bringing as much practical value to the world as possible. Tesla to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy, Neuralink for medical rehabilitation, and SpaceX for making interstellar connections."
The entrepreneur then described the various purposes and ambitions of his businesses.
"Electrified transportation." Transportation that includes cars, planes, and ships is fully electrified. Electric rockets may be more difficult, but we may be able to produce the propellant used in rockets from sustainable energy sources. Eventually, the world economy will be managed entirely by sustainable energy sources.
Musk is open to Chinese partnerships.
Musk praises Tesla's progress in developing humanoid robots and says the company intends to market the first of these bots this year.
"The usefulness of humanoid robots will increase yearly as production scales up and costs decrease. In the future, a home robot may be cheaper than a car." Perhaps in less than a decade, people will be able to buy a robot for their parents as a birthday present.
He then repeated one of his greatest desires: to conquer Mars.
"We intend to construct at least 1,000 Starships in the future to send groups of pioneers to Mars to build a self-sustaining city," Musk wrote.
He concludes the piece by declaring that he is open to partnerships with Chinese enterprises:
"I hope more people will join us in our effort to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. I invite more like-minded Chinese partners to join us in exploring clean energy, artificial intelligence, human-machine collaboration, and space exploration to create a future worth waiting for."
In the same July issue, there are also articles from local CEOs, including Eric Jing, the chairman of Ant Group.