BEIJING, May 31 (Reuters) – He is the “pioneer” of “Brother Ma” and some want him to be president of the United States. Billionaire Elon Musk won praise from the Chinese public during his trip to China and at the same time attracted three cabinet ministers.
Since landing in Beijing on Tuesday, the CEO of Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has met with China’s foreign, trade and industry ministers and dined with Zeng Yuqun, president of CATL (300750.SZ), the largest battery supplier.
While little is known about those discussions — the Ministry of Industry said only that Musk and its boss, Jin Zhuanglong, exchanged views on the development of electric and connected cars — that hasn’t stopped the outpouring of enthusiasm for Musk on Chinese social media.
One user commented, “He’s a global idol.” Another said: “Elon Musk is great, if only China could have someone like Elon Musk.”
Musk’s unannounced trip is the latest to China by a top US CEO since the country reversed its coronavirus policy and reopened its borders. Apple’s Tim Cook (AAPL.O) visited in March, while Jamie Dimon’s (JPM.N) and Starbucks’s (SBUX.O) Laxman Narasimhan also visited China this week.
But compared to the less solemn welcome of his counterparts, Musk’s visit is a popular topic and his popularity comes despite rising tensions between the United States and China, with his comments on artificial intelligence and electric cars very close to attention.
Pictures posted on social media showed that even the menu of the 16-course meal at the upscale restaurant Man Fu Yan he shared with CATL’s Zeng on Tuesday night was full of flair.
Painted with two breeding horses — a play on the horse character used in the Chinese name for Mask — the list described Tesla as a dark horse that “stands out from traditional car companies.”
In contrast to the social media storm in China and his tendency at home to make waves on Twitter (which he now owns), Musk made no public statements during his trip. Twitter is banned in China.
Tesla and Catel did not respond to requests for comment. The Ministry of Commerce did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department quoted the billionaire as describing the US and China economies as “conjoined twins” and saying he opposed separating them.
Musk’s first visit to China in three years comes as Tesla faces stiff competition from electric cars made in China and some uncertainty about expansion plans for the Shanghai plant.
The plant produced more than 700,000 Model Y and Model 3 vehicles last year, more than half of the company’s global production.
It was not clear whether Tesla faced any regulatory hurdles to expand the factory.
Investors are also keen to see if Chinese regulators will approve the release of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance features. The features are available in the US as part of the “Fully Self-Driving” program, which sells for $15,000 per vehicle.
Musk is expected to meet with other senior Chinese officials and visit the Shanghai factory later in the week, sources said, though it was not clear who exactly he would meet or what issues they would discuss.
Reporting by Martin Pollard. Additional reporting by Josh Arslan, Wang Tingshu, and Joe Cash in Beijing, Zhang Yan in Shanghai, and Newsroom Shanghai; Written by Brenda Goh. Editing by Edwina Gibbs
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