In March 2020, while California ordered non-essential businesses to limit their activities in order to stop the spread of Covid-19, Elon Musk refused to close his Tesla factory, forcing health authorities to put pressure on the company so that employees are finally allowed to self-isolate. Musk then publicly challenged the scientific projections on the evolution of the virus.
Two months earlier, the electric car maker had immediately shut down its Shanghai factory when ordered to do so by Chinese authorities. As Insider points out, this dual strategy is a constant with the billionaire, who cultivates his “bad boy” image in the United States but presents a much more docile face in China.
In the midst of a trade war with the United States, China knows that benefiting from the wise cooperation of one of America’s most popular businessmen is a valuable asset. The Chinese Communist Party has cleverly managed to curry favor with the billionaire, while keeping him under control.
In 2019, for example, Tesla was able to become the first foreign company to own a car factory on Chinese territory. But that honor comes at a price: The factory was built with money borrowed from China, the state still owns the land it’s built on, and Tesla has an obligation to generate a minimum amount of tax revenue. .
For comparison, after copiously insulting Californian politicians, Elon Musk packed up and moved Tesla’s headquarters from San Francisco to Austin. The billionaire claims to prefer the regulations on Texas companies, which are much more permissive than those of California.
like a boomerang
One of the reasons for this difference in behavior is that China is the most dynamic market in the world in terms of electric vehicles, and the competition there is much tougher than in the West.
“The Chinese government has no problem using foreign companies to develop its industry, only to push them aside once domestic competition has become strong enough to replace them,” explains to Insider Tu Le, a Chinese market analyst. “The message is: behave yourself above reproach, or it’s the door.”
As his company was taken down by the Chinese media in the spring of 2021 for a braking problem, the richest man in the world, always quick to provoke his detractors on Twitter, apologized flatly and pledged to collaborate with the authorities. .
However, this desire to put on a good face, which is also found among most of the big bosses of Western companies, always quick to bend in front of the sometimes exorbitant demands of the regime, could end up turning against it.
In early 2022, Tesla opened a showroom in Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang. However, this is precisely the region where the Chinese regime is accused of persecuting the Uyghur minority. Many companies have caused outcry in the West because of their activities in the region: Tesla’s docility could, on this side of the world, cost it a few customers.