Elon Musk’s quiet, untweeted China trip

China Report is MIT Technology Review’s newsletter about technology developments in China. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Tuesday. 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…
Elon Musk’s quiet, untweeted China trip

Ever since China lifted most of its pandemic-era travel restrictions in January, foreign executives have been swarming in. And Musk had good reason to go: China is a vital part of Tesla’s electric-vehicle empire, both as a market and as a production powerhouse. But as the owner of Starlink, SpaceX, and recently Twitter, Musk has a much more complicated relationship with the country.

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.

He had quite a busy itinerary: in 44 hours, Musk met with at least three high-level Chinese officials, dined with the CEO of the world’s largest EV battery supplier, and visited Tesla’s factory in Shanghai, among other things. 

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. 

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.

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.

Musk is not the first American executive to visit China this year: before him, there were Apple’s Tim Cook, General Motors’s Mary Barra, JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, Starbucks’s Laxman Narasimhan, and more. But so far, Musk has received the biggest welcome, both from Chinese government officials and from the people on Chinese social media.