Congress Should Investigate Elon Musk’s Business Ties with China

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Photo illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden rightly said there are aspects of Elon Musk’s business dealings worth examining, in response to questions about the involvement of foreign governments in the acquisition of the company. social media company Twitter.

As human rights activists seeking a democratic transition in China, we urge Congress to investigate how Musk’s ties to China could threaten free speech, privacy, national security and US foreign policy goals. Support for Musk’s innovative and liberal solutions to society’s needs and problems, and ensuring that his actions do not endanger human rights and national security interests generally, should not be mutually exclusive.

While Musk has recently drawn controversy in the United States – and applause from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – for suggesting that Taiwan should surrender some of its freedom to the mainland’s authoritarian regime, his business activities have been a concern for US-China relations for some time.

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Musk’s companies have significant ties to China. With the success of the Shanghai Gigafactory, China is already Tesla’s second largest market for Tesla EV sales. Musk has taken out more than $1 billion in loans from Chinese state-owned banks; and Tencent, a Chinese technology conglomerate, acquired a roughly 5% stake in Tesla.

All of this could make him vulnerable to intimidation from the CCP. It’s one thing to buy a social media company in the United States, where the government poses little threat to free speech. It’s another to buy Twitter when Musk’s other companies are embroiled in China’s repressive regime, which has a history of forcing private companies to serve its interests.

On Chinese social networks like Weibo and WeChat, censorship is swift and ruthless. One can imagine circumstances in which the CCP will attempt to demand Musk do its bidding by limiting what can be posted on Twitter, despite the ironic fact that access to Twitter is banned in China.

China in recent years has expanded its crackdown overseas, and its “50 Cent Army” – mercenaries hired by the Chinese government to monitor online content, who reportedly receive around 50 cents for each censored article. – engage in widespread online activities. mobbing. Saudi Arabia’s harassment of its own online dissidents happened in part through Twitter before Musk. There is no reason to think that the CCP will hesitate to use similar tactics in the future.

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SpaceX and its foreign suppliers appear particularly vulnerable to Chinese espionage, given China’s aggressive drive to overtake the United States in the new space race. A recent Pentagon-commissioned study group found that “China appears to be on track to overtake the United States as the dominant space power by 2045.” As Washington lawmakers seek to propel the U.S. space industry ahead of its main rival, they must ensure contractors’ ties to the authoritarian regime do not inadvertently promote Chinese interests while undermining China’s efforts. US Space Force.

No clear line exists between Tesla, which produces Chinese-sought battery packs, and SpaceX, which has an array of classified national security secrets that would benefit the People’s Republic’s anti-US space program.

A recent editorial by The Washington Post which outlines how Musk’s acquisition of Twitter could impact the platform’s policies regarding foreign influence operations. At its most benign, Chinese government propaganda has involved using writers and artists to “tell the good story of China.” Of course, the careers of these celebrities are supported by the CCP.

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Twitter, like other mainstream US platforms (Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, etc.), has had to deal with China and other totalitarian governments flooding their platforms with lies, often via fake accounts . The Chinese People’s Liberation Army, including the Strategic Support Force, now regards cyberspace and near-Earth space as a cosmic battlefield and devotes large personnel to this purpose.

Even America’s most talented and forward-thinking visionaries, like Musk, are not immune to making occasional mistakes in their quest for greatness. That may not be the case with Musk, but it would be a grave mistake for Congress not to conduct the relevant due diligence investigations.

Over the years, members of Congress have introduced various legislative proposals aimed at providing the oversight necessary to provide the national security community with the answers it needs and the public deserves. With this issue now brought to the public’s attention, it is time for the US government to assess potential conflicts of interest between major US corporations (including Tesla and SpaceX) and China; and seek effective long-term remedies.

Jianli Yang is the founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of For us the living: a journey to shed light on the truth.

Fengsuo Zhou is founder and chairman of Humanitarian China.

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