Elon Musk Tries to Make Nice with the Communist Party

Tesla CEO Elon Musk attends an opening ceremony for Tesla’s China-made Model Y program in Shanghai, China, January 7, 2020. (Aly Song/Reuters)

You almost can’t blame Elon Musk for speaking so highly of the Chinese Communist Party on its 100th anniversary.

On Twitter, Musk seems to be opening a new front in Tesla’s effort to clean up its reputation in China, extolling the virtues of the Party’s accomplishments in response to a Chinese state media post:

The eccentric billionaire’s company has been targeted by Chinese authorities in a campaign of retaliation for U.S. concerns about the handling of U.S. users’ data in the hands of Chinese companies such as TikTok. In April, Chinese authorities unveiled new rules under the country’s Data Security Law aimed in part at patching up a perceived data-security threat posed by the U.S. electric-vehicle manufacturer. Tesla later announced that it would open a data center in Shanghai to comply. China also banned the use of Tesla vehicles by Chinese-government officials and military personnel.

In response, Tesla has started to launch legal challenges against Chinese netizens it accuses of spreading false information about its brand. His complimentary comments about China’s accomplishments — which expand on a similarly fawning Chinese-television interview he gave in May — seem to make up one additional attempt at defending Tesla’s position in the country.

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The company’s sales there have yet to recover from the smear campaign that began in April and amid the emergence of other electric-vehicle brands that have proved worthy rivals.

Musk’s strategy, to the extent that there is one, might make some sense: Though it is morally indefensible, it doesn’t place him beyond the mainstream of his peers atop major U.S. companies. Praising China’s rapid development while ignoring the Party’s rampant human-rights abuses is commonplace in the C-suite.

In any case, someone probably should warn Musk that the Party has its sights on Tesla and that these situations don’t usually end well for the companies against which it decides to move.

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