HONG KONG – Elon Musk , the tech billionaire who has been the subject of controversy for some time in the United States enjoyed a visit to China and received praise. He also made a few geopolitical comments.
During his two-day visit, the Tesla and Twitter CEO – newly restored to position as the world’s wealthiest man – was welcomed by officials and showered in praise by the public.
Musk’s warm welcome belies the tensions that are growing.
Musk also met with senior businessmen and China’s ministers of commerce, industry, and foreign affairs.
After landing in Beijing on Tuesday, he was welcomed by Qin Gang, the Chinese Foreign Minister.
Musk’s public comments were limited and the details of his meetings largely kept private. However, the Foreign Ministry quoted him saying that the U.S. economy and the Chinese economy are “conjoined” twins and that he opposed any moves that could undo this.
The relationship between Washington and Beijing has soured on a number of issues, including the Status of Taiwan. As a result, the U.S. as well as its allies are increasingly looking to reduce their economic dependence on China.
Musk visited the Tesla factory in Shanghai on Wednesday and thanked the staff, according to the video posted by the official Tesla account on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent to Twitter). He also met a senior Shanghai official.
Musk’s political activities and his stewardship over Twitter in the U.S. have been a subject of increasing scrutiny. Musk recently defended the promotion of conspiracy theories, but said that he would not stop sharing extreme views despite widespread condemnation.
Musk has been praised on social media for his warm welcome to China, where Tesla faced criticism in recent years.
“Musk, not only is a businessman but also a researcher.” One comment on Weibo said, “He is someone we must admire.” One commentator called him a “global icon.”
Hu Xijin is the retired editor of state-backed newspaper Global Times. He noted a rise of Tesla’s stock and said on Weibo Friday that Musk was a “trendsetter” in his time, because he “clearly penetrating the geopolitics.”
He added, “It’s unusual to be popular and in the spotlight in the U.S. as well as China today.”
Analysts said Musk was attempting to strike a delicate balance between courting China and avoiding further U.S. backlash.
Daniel Ives is an analyst with the U.S. investment firm Wedbush Securities. He told NBC News that Musk “basically threw out the U.S. China decoupling thesis.” This is a fine line these titans walk in the geopolitical game between the U.S.
Musk has been a well-known figure in Chinese social media for years.
His most recent posts have been liked by thousands. He has more than 2 million Weibo followers. Musk, who owns the Twitter site that is blocked in China, was not as active on the site as usual while in China.
“Despite his self proclaimed detestation for censorship, and willingness to challenge, he is acting properly for his CCP hosts,” said Yaqiu, a senior research for Human Rights Watch. Yaqiu was referring to initials for the Chinese Communist Party.
Musk’s departure from Shanghai marked his first visit to China since three years. China is now a global player again after lifting the Covid-19 restrictions. Musk last visited Tesla’s Shanghai plant in 2020.
Musk’s business is largely based in China, as Tesla faces increasing competition from Chinese electric vehicles, and has recently faced some backlash due to safety and data security issues, which Musk had previously tried to alleviate.
Shanghai produced more than 700,000 Model Ys and Model 3s last year. This is over half of the global production.
Ives stated that the Chinese electric vehicle market was “the core DNA and lynchpin of Tesla, both from a production and demand perspective.”
Tesla did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
In recent months, several CEOs of American companies visited China despite the intensifying conflict between the U.S.
Bloomberg reports that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, Starbucks CEO Laxman Nrasimhan, and Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang have visited China.