Tech Tension

Tesla spying? China would shut us down, says Musk

Media report claims Chinese military has banned Tesla cars from its bases, citing security concerns over its cameras

Entrepreneur Elon Musk is not in the “spying” game.

The Tesla tycoon made that perfectly clear after media reports revealed that China’s military had banned the electric auto giant from its facilities.

Citing security concerns about the cameras installed on vehicles, the Reuters news agency was told by sources that the group’s e-cars had been barred from defence bases.

“If Tesla used cars to spy in China or anywhere, we will get shut down,” Musk said at the weekend.

The facts:

  • He was speaking online at the China Development Forum.
  • This is a high-level business event with links to the State Council, the administrative authority of the ruling Communist Party of China.
  • Musk was holding a virtual discussion panel with Xue Qikun, a Chinese quantum physicist at the Southern University of Science and Technology.
  • Last year, Tesla sold more than 147,000 vehicles or 30% of its global sales. 

What was said: “There’s a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential with any information,” he said.

Delve deeper: Musk is not your regular buttoned-up CEO. Earlier this week, he dropped the chief executive tag to become “Technoking of Tesla. The company’s chief financial officer, Zach Kirkhorn, also has the new title of Master of Coin. That is probably connected to the company’ decision to purchase US$1.5 billion of Bitcoin this year.

High-wire act: “Other American CEOs have close relationships [with] the [ruling Communist] Party. But [Musk] is the only one who loudly praises Beijing while running [SpaceX] with incredibly sensitive and powerful [US] defense applications. Can Musk continue to walk this line?,” Isaac Stone Fish, of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations, said. 

China Factor comment: Musk has urged greater mutual trust between China and the United States. Good luck on that one.

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