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Twitter & Tesla Clash: Elon Musk's Secret China Trip Reveals Diverging Interests

Twitter & Tesla Clash: Elon Musk's Secret China Trip Reveals Diverging Interests

Elon Musk China visit

During his visit to the second-largest market for electric vehicles, the richest man in the world fell into an unusual social media silence.

Elon Musk's supporters were unsure of what to anticipate from his visit to China. Would he discuss Tesla, a business with a big market and manufacturing presence there? Or SpaceX, with its beneficial link to the US government? What about Twitter, the social media platform he purchased on the grounds that "free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy"? 

Silence was the one unexpected development.

Musk's final tweet was posted late on Monday night. Only on Thursday morning did he return to the US and write a post commending SpaceX for their accomplishments in human spaceflight, ending the unusual absence.

Any other chief executive could have said that their two days in the Chinese mainland consisted of a nonstop schedule of meetings, excursions, and meals, leaving little time for social media updates. However, Musk, who has tweeted almost daily since last June, rarely stumbles for words.

Twitter is obviously prohibited in China, but internet-savvy residents and international visitors are frequently able to access it anyhow through virtual private networks. But some were content to speak for Musk. His visit demonstrated the foolishness of American policies to "decouple" from China, according to a state news agency, according to comments translated by the Washington Post on Weibo, the Chinese short-form social network that has thrived in Twitter's absence.

The Musks [of the world] won't agree, even if the White House agrees with the justifications for decoupling.

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When the Tesla CEO met with China's industry minister, Jin Zhuanglong, the foreign ministry issued a statement indicating that Musk hoped to increase the electric carmaker's operations in China, which is its second-largest market. Musk allegedly called the economies of the two nations "conjoined twins" in a statement, according to the ministry.

The larger corporate community has found the visit to be influential. It was announced on Thursday morning that Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive officer of the luxury goods group LVMH, was also making preparations to travel to China for the first time since the Covid outbreak. Arnault and Musk have been competing to be crowned the richest person in the world, with Musk this week surpassing the Frenchman when the price of Tesla rose and the price of LMVH shares fell.

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China's significance to Tesla has long made Musk's investment in Twitter uncomfortable. It had a reputation for taking a stand against attempts by the Chinese government to utilise the site for propaganda outside before he assumed control of the social network. Chinese diplomats and civil servants who used the website with special permission were labelled as "government officials," while news feeds like the Xinhua agency's were referred to as "state-owned media." As part of Musk's contentious redesign of the platform's verification procedure, the labels were taken off.

Another Twitter project, the company's moderation research consortium, sent information about troll accounts controlled by state actors, including China, to researchers all over the world. Prior to Musk's $44 billion acquisition last October, Twitter made information about Chinese "state-linked information operations" available for three years. The project is no longer active, and its twin Twitter leaders, Yoel Roth, who oversees safety and integrity, and Vjiaya Gadde, who oversees legal, policy, and trust, have become some of the most well-known casualties of Musk's significant layoffs at the firm.

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Prior to Musk taking control of Twitter, the conflicts of interest were obvious. The country was significant for Tesla as a market and supplier, but had little influence over the platform since it was banned in 2009, according to New York Times reporter Mike Forsythe in April of last year. When Forsythe responded, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, questioned whether Musk's acquisition meant that "the Chinese government just gained a bit of leverage over the town square?"

Since then, Musk hasn't directly addressed the complaints about the uneven incentives. But there has been a ferocious reaction to pressure regarding Twitter's overall relationship with foreign governments. In response to the writer Matt Yglesias pointing out that, in apparent contrast to Musk's claim to be a "free-speech absolutist," Twitter chose to accede to Turkish government requests to remove content following the national election, Musk responded by labelling him a "insufferable numbskull." It was their final Twitter conversation before he left for China.

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