Tesla’s Elon Musk today met China’s foreign minister Qin Gang in Beijing, the Chinese ministry said in a statement.
Qin told Musk China was ‘committed to creating a better market-oriented, rule-of-law-based and internationalised business environment’ for foreign enterprises, according to the statement.
Musk said in response ‘Tesla opposes “decoupling and breaking chains”, and is willing to continue to expand its business in China’, according to the ministry’s readout.
It is Musk’s first visit to China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
It came hours after the People’s Republic of China (PRC) rejected America’s offer to meet Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Pictured: Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk this morning
Pictured: Tesla Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s private jet is seen after landing at Beijing Capital International Airport on May 30, 2023
According to a ministry statement, in their meeting Qin told Musk: ‘We need to keep the steering wheel in the right direction of mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and win-win cooperation.’
The two sides should ‘avoid “dangerous driving,” ‘ Qin said. He gave no details of steps to improve relations.
The meeting with Austin was intended to take place at an annual security forum in Singapore this weekend before China refused the request, saying the U.S. was ‘well aware’ of the reasons behind the lack of military communication.
‘Overnight, the PRC informed the U.S. that they have declined our early May invitation for Secretary [Lloyd] Austin to meet with PRC Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Singapore,’ the Pentagon said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.
The Pentagon said it believed in open communication ‘to ensure that competition does not veer into conflict’.
Reuters reported in March that Musk was planning a trip to China and was seeking a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang.
The trip comes at a time when Tesla faces intensifying competition from China-made electric vehicles and some uncertainty about expansion plans for the Shanghai factory complex Musk last visited in early 2020.
China is Tesla’s second-largest market after the U.S. and the Shanghai plant is the electric car maker’s largest production hub.
A key area of interest for Tesla watchers is the status of its plans to increase output by 450,000 vehicles a year at its Shanghai plant.
The company said last month it would build a nearby factory to produce Megapack energy storage products.
It made the announcement at a signing ceremony for the project in Shanghai on April 9.
Pictured: Tesla CEO Elon Musk dances onstage during the official launch ceremony for China-made Model 3 cars in China on January 7, 2020
Tom Zhu, Tesla’s senior vice president of automotive, and Shanghai government officials including Vice Mayor Wu Qing attended, with Tesla Vice President Tao Lin signing the contract.
The new factory, which will have an initial capacity of 10,000 Megapack units per year, is expected to ‘start production in the second quarter of 2024’, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Another pending question is whether China regulators will clear the release of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance features, available in other markets as part of the ‘Full Self Driving’ software it sells for $15,000 per vehicle.
Musk’s private jet, a 2015 Gulfstream G650ER, was shown leaving Alaska on Tuesday morning Asia time before crossing over Japan and South Korea, according to ADS-B Exchange, a flight aggregation website.
The jet, identifiable by its tail number, could be seen at Beijing Capital International Airport on Tuesday, according to a Reuters witness.
While his plane was en route to China, Musk tweeted about advances in the Asian nation’s space program, which aims to land a crew on the moon before 2030.
‘The Chinese space program is far more advanced than most people realize,’ he said.
Pictured: Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai. China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the government welcomed Musk – and other business leaders – looking to promote ‘mutually beneficial cooperation’
Musk’s space company, SpaceX, and the military applications of its Starlink satellite network have been watched with interest by Chinese researchers since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
State-owned Chinese companies are rushing to follow Starlink by launching their own low-Earth orbit, communications satellites. Chinese military researchers have studied Starlink as a potentially threatening technology, according to research reviewed by Reuters.
In January 2020, Musk spoke during a ceremony at Tesla’s new Gigafactory in Shanghai.
Musk talked about various initiatives and achievements. He said China would open a new design and engineering center in the country and that it will use the Shanghai Gigafactory to build a production program for the Model Y.
Accompanied by a video of his dancing onstage, Musk tweeted: ‘At Tesla Giga Shanghai NSFW!!’
Musk told CNBC earlier this month that ‘there are some constraints on our ability to expand in China’. He added: ‘It’s not a demand issue.’
In the same interview, Musk said tensions between the United States and China ‘should be a concern for everyone’.
Washington and Beijing are attempting to stabilize relations over trade.
China’s commerce minister and his US counterpart raised concerns about their countries’ trade and investment policies at a meeting in Washington last week, but they pledged to keep channels of communication open.
It was the first visit by a senior Chinese official to the US capital since 2020.
Tesla has recently hit its stride after years of losses, scoring an impressive string of earnings records as it added factories and ramped up production.
It has also acted as a major catalyst for a revolution in transportation, with much of the industry’s innovation efforts moving away from the internal combustion engine towards electric vehicles.
Even with that success, Musk has fallen short of some of his outsized goals.
Tesla reported a drop in first-quarter earnings this year, with the company undertaking a series of price cuts in the face of competition from other automakers.
Tesla’s lowest-priced vehicle, the Model 3, begins at more than $40,000 in the United States, making it too pricey for many consumers even though the vehicle had been pitched at the mass market.
Musk has also missed his own deadlines for a fully autonomous vehicle, with Tesla driver-assistance technology spurring US regulatory probes.
And while Tesla remains the world’s largest seller of EVs, the popularity of Chinese brands has soared in recent years.
The largest of them, BYD, saw its profits jump fivefold in the first quarter thanks to global demand for its cars and buses.
EVs make up a quarter of car sales in China, the world’s largest car market, and dozens of new models from domestic and Western brands were unveiled in April at the country’s first auto show since Covid restrictions were lifted.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Tuesday that the country welcomed visits by international executives ‘to better understand China and promote mutually beneficial cooperation’.