Musk loses his X-factor amid China’s claims on Taiwan

Tesla’s billionaire tech titan comes under fire for his comments about the democratic island

Welcome to the 17th edition of Between The Lines. This week we look at how Elon Musk walked into a geopolitical minefield over China’s claims on Taiwan. The island democracy was not amused. Also, we focus on the European Union’s move to put up roadblocks against Chinese electric vehicles and the Westminster “spygate” row. Let’s get started.

Tech titan Elon Musk has created a Twitter, sorry I mean X, tsunami. The multi-billionaire behind the rebranded social media site, auto giant Tesla and SpaceX walked into a storm this week over China’s controversial claims on democratic Taiwan.

Speaking at the All-In Summit in Los Angeles and uploaded to YouTube, Musk said as reported by the Reuters news agency:

Their [Beijing’s] policy has been to reunite Taiwan with China. From their standpoint, maybe it is analogous to Hawaii or something like that, like an integral part of China that is arbitrarily not part of China mostly because … the US Pacific Fleet has stopped any sort of reunification effort by force.

Needless to say, his grasp of geopolitics was questioned in the media and fact-checked. The Independent, an online newspaper based in London, led the charge: 

That comparison is flawed in two major ways. First, Hawaii is not a contested region but is unquestionably a US state with all the powers and freedoms granted to any other US state.

“Second, Taiwan’s assertion that it is its own state is not arbitrary, but instead a position it has held for decades,” the Indy added.

In response to Musk’s musings, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu responded in a post on X, according to Reuters. He said he hoped the world’s richest man could ask China to “open @X to its people.” 

The site is blocked by Beijing along with other major Western social media sites such as Facebook.

“Listen up, Taiwan is not part of the PRC [and] certainly not for sale!” Wu said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China, a crucial market for Tesla.

In short, it seems Musk has lost his X-factor in Taipei.

Inside the plant of Chinese electric vehicle company BYD. Photo: File

EU is on a collision course with Beijing

China has become the driving force in the auto sector. A report in the Financial Times on September 12 revealed that the world’s second-largest economy will take over as the world’s largest car-exporting nation this year. 

“The watershed moment will mark the end of decades of dominance by European, American, Japanese, and South Korean groups,” the FT stated.

The news came as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced plans to “launch an anti-subsidy investigation” into Chinese electric vehicles flooding into Europe.

Politico pointed out that “the announcement follows months of pressure from Paris and its proxies in industry.” In her annual State of the European Union address on September 13, von der Leyen said:  

Global markets are now flooded with cheaper Chinese electric cars. And their price is kept artificially low by huge state subsidies. This is distorting our market.

“So I can announce today that the Commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China. Europe is open [to] competition. Not for a race to the bottom,” she added.

Von der Leyen delivered her speech ahead of EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis’ trip to Beijing next week. “We’re open to competition but not to unfair practices,” he posted on X.

It looks like Dombrovskis and the EU are prepared for a bumpy road ahead in tackling China’s state-run capitalist system.

Suspicions of spying have engulfed the British Parliament. Photo: Public Domain

Westminster spying fears shock Chinese dissidents

Exiled Chinese dissidents and Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have been left shellshocked by the “spygate” revelations at the heart of British democracy. 

Last weekend, The Sunday Times reported that two men were arrested in March on suspicion of breaking the Official Secrets Act with alleged links to a Chinese surveillance network

One of those questioned was a researcher with a Westminster “pass” and “contacts” with politicians inside the Houses of Parliament in London, including government ministers. 

He has since insisted he is “completely innocent” and rejected what he said was “extravagant news reporting.” Both men have been released on bail. Over to The Guardian in London

In a call echoed by Amnesty International, Chung Ching Kwong, a Hong Kong-born democracy activist now living in the UK, called for reassurances to be given to those who gave information to parliamentarians and who now fear they may be at risk.

“Rather than MPs, it is the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Taiwanese, Chinese dissidents and Hongkongers that are and will be the ones to suffer. Has anyone briefed the activists and dissidents that may have been affected due to potential security failure,” she asked in an interview with The Guardian earlier this week.

From the political classes to the chattering classes, the British government is facing mounting pressure to take stronger action against China’s ruling Communist Party. Watch this space.

And finally …

China’s local governments are sinking into trillions of dollars of debt. But it seems they have come up with an unlikely lifeline. According to The Wall Street Journal, the police are “imposing larger and more frequent fines for traffic offenses, and business and safety-code violations.” Talk about cops and robbers! Check it out.