Elon Musk arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a surprise visit to China, his first in over three years.
The Tesla boss gave little to no advance warning of the trip, which could have major ramifications for the electric car company’s operations in Asia.
Mr Musk’s first stop on the visit, which is expected to include a trip to Tesla’s Shanghai factory and meetings with a number of senior Chinese officials, was for talks with the foreign minister Qin Gang, who recently described relations with the US as being on “cold ice”.
The Tesla and SpaceX chief was told that US-Chinese relations require “mutual respect”, with Mr Qin joking that the two sides should “avoid dangerous driving”, according to a ministry statement after the meeting.
Mr Qin said China will “unswervingly promote high-level opening up” and create a “market-oriented, law-based and internationalised business environment”, according to the statement.
“China’s development is an opportunity for the world.”
China’s electric vehicle market “has broad prospects for development”, the ministry quoted Mr Qin as saying.
China hosts Tesla’s first factory based outside of the United States, and the carmaker is known to have submitted applications to expand its production facilities in Shanghai, with the plans still awaiting approval.
Mr Musk told CNBC earlier this month that “there are some constraints on our ability to expand in China”, adding: “It’s not a demand issue.”
Reuters reported in March that Mr Musk was seeking to meet Chinese premier Li Qiang, with the exact timing of his visit depending on his availability.
Tesla’s Shanghai plant accounted for over half of the company’s global production in 2022.
Analysts speculated that Mr Musk might also want to use the trip to discuss Tesla’s full self-driving technology, which the electric car maker has been seeking to introduce in China for some time.
Commenting on his China visit, some Twitter users wondered if the self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist” would face questions during his visit about the communist country’s harsh rules around censorship.
Many foreign companies are also uneasy following raids on consulting firms and given the strained status of Chinese relations with Washington.
Mr Musk’s visit also comes when Tesla is dealing with growing competition from Chinese car makers, including the country’s electric vehicle exports.
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Tesla is closing in on a trial production of its revamped Model 3 sedan in Shanghai, which the carmaker hopes to compete more closely with rivals in the Chinese market.
While Tesla has not revealed details on increasing output at its Shanghai plant, the company said it would build a battery farm in Shanghai to produce Megapack energy storage units.
Ahead of his trip, the SpaceX boss also complimented China’s space programme, calling it “more advanced than most people realise”.