Congress should investigate Elon Musk’s business ties to China

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Photo illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden rightly called for attention to aspects of Elon Musk’s business dealings in response to questions about foreign governments’ involvement in the takeover of the social media company Twitter.

As human rights activists striving for a democratic transition in China, we urge Congress to investigate how Musk’s ties to China could threaten freedom of speech, privacy, national security and U.S. foreign policy goals . Supporting Musk’s innovative, free-market solutions to society’s needs and problems, and ensuring that his actions do not endanger human rights and national security interests in general, should not be mutually exclusive.

While Musk has recently sparked controversy in the US — and applause from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) — for suggesting that Taiwan should cede some of its freedom to the authoritarian regime on the mainland, his business activities are a concern for US-China relations. quite some time.

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Musk’s companies have important ties to China. With the success of Shanghai’s Gigafactory, China is already Tesla’s second top market for Tesla EV sales. Musk has taken over $1 billion in loans from Chinese state banks; and Tencent, a Chinese-owned technology conglomerate, has acquired a stake of about 5 percent in Tesla.

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All this could make him vulnerable to harassment by the CCP. It’s one thing to buy a social media company in the US, where the government poses little threat to free speech. It’s another thing to buy Twitter when Musk’s other companies have become caught up 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 brutal. One can imagine circumstances under which the CCP will try to demand that Musk do his bidding by restricting what can be posted on Twitter, despite the ironic fact that access to Twitter is banned in China.

China has expanded its repression machinery abroad in recent years, keeping its “50 cent army” — mercenaries hired by the Chinese government to monitor online content, who reportedly receive about 50 cents for every censored item. engaged in widespread online bullying. Saudi Arabia’s mobbing of its own online dissidents has taken place partly through pre-Musk Twitter. There is no reason to believe that the CCP will shy away from using similar tactics in the future.

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SpaceX and its foreign suppliers appear particularly vulnerable to Chinese espionage given China’s aggressive focus on catching up with the US in the new space race. A recent study group commissioned by the Pentagon found that “China appears to be on track to surpass the US as the dominant space power by 2045.” As lawmakers in Washington try to give the US space industry an edge over its main rival, they must ensure that contractors’ ties to the authoritarian regime do not inadvertently advance Chinese interests while undermining the efforts of the US space force.

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There is no clear line between Tesla, which produces battery packs the Chinese are after, and SpaceX, which holds a series of classified national security secrets that would benefit the People’s Republic’s cutthroat, anti-American space program.

Further concerns about Musk’s growing relationship with China is a recent op-ed by The Washington Post which outlines how Musk’s acquisition of Twitter could affect the platform’s policies regarding foreign-influenced operations. In its more benign form, Chinese government propaganda involved using writers and entertainers to “tell China’s good story.” 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 through fake accounts. The People’s Liberation Army of China – including the Strategic Support Force – now views cyberspace and near-Earth space as a cosmic battlefield and deploys significant personnel to it.

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Even the most talented, forward-thinking American visionaries, like Musk, are not immune to making the occasional mistake in their pursuit of greatness. That may not be the case with Musk, but it would be a serious mistake for Congress not to conduct the relevant due diligence.

Over the years, members of Congress have introduced several legislative proposals to attempt to conduct the vetting necessary to give the national security community the answers it needs and the public deserves. With this issue coming to public attention, it is time for the US government to assess potential conflicts of interest between major US companies (including Tesla and SpaceX) and China; and to seek effective long-term solutions.

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

Fengsuo Zhou is founder and chairman of Humanitarian China.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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