Tesla Inc.’s Elon Musk joined Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook, Mercedes-Benz Group AG’s Ola Källenius and other car and technology company bosses in emphasizing the importance of maintaining ties with China in his first visit to the country since before the pandemic.
Musk met with Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Beijing on Tuesday and said the interests of China and the US are intertwined, according to a government statement. The release cited him saying that Tesla opposes decoupling from China and is willing to keep expanding in the country.
The remarks are reminiscent of Mercedes’s boss Källenius telling the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag last month that unbundling from China is “an illusion,” and Apple’s Cook emphasizing the symbiotic nature of the iPhone maker’s relationship with the country during a visit in March. Just last week, General Motors Co.’s Mary Barra said China remains a key market for the company and that she was looking forward to continuing to develop clean cars with local partners.
The comments run counter to efforts by leaders including US President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to gain a geopolitical upper hand over Chinese President Xi Jinping by exerting greater influence over the trade of key components, including electric-car batteries and semiconductors. The US and Germany have offered state support for local manufacturing to help de-risk supply chains and wean the auto industry off its heavy reliance on China for EV components.
Musk also is expected to visit Tesla’s Shanghai factory, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. The Tesla chief executive officer potentially will meet Premier Li Qiang, as well, to discuss automated-driving technology that Tesla is seeking to introduce in China, one of the people said.
Tesla’s shares climbed 3.1% at 10:12 a.m. in New York.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Mao Ning earlier Tuesday welcomed Musk and other business leaders, saying the government would like to see foreign investors “sharing in the dividends of the development of China.”
Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment. Representatives from Shanghai’s government press office and the State Council Information Office of China also didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Tesla was nearing the start of trial production for its revamped Model 3 in Shanghai, which Musk is betting will compete more effectively with Chinese rivals. The refreshed sedan is slightly longer than the current version and sportier, with a sleeker interior design.
Tesla’s Shanghai plant accounted for more than half its global production in 2022, and the facility can now produce as many as 1.1 million cars a year. Shipments from Tesla’s Shanghai facility have been running well short of that pace, despite the company dropping prices and exporting to new markets including Canada.
The US automaker accounted for almost one-quarter of Shanghai’s total automotive production value last year. Local authorities pledged earlier this month to continue to boost ties with the company through automated driving and robot modules.