Is it possible to do business with China and be the ‘liberator’ of the most important social network in the US?

Following the news that Tesla CEO Elon Musk was going to buy Twitter, one of the strangest and most viral reactions came from… su double chino. “My man, my man. I love you,” said the self-proclaimed Yi Long Ma, who has become an internet celebrity for videos of him mocking Musk on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. The world’s richest man himself gave Yi Long a shout-out late last year, joking that he may be part Chinese. His counterpart in China is clearly excited about the idea of ​​Musk owning the social network. But will the world’s richest man’s ties to Beijing hurt him and Twitter? There are two sides to this discussion.

On the one hand, China could become a big toothache for Musk in his new role. That’s the prevailing narrative in the Western media, which argues that since Tesla has huge investments in China, Beijing could influence Musk to relax some Twitter rules that Xi Jinping doesn’t like.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma reappears after almost three months ‘disappeared’

EFE

Chinese diplomats and state media have long complained that their accounts are labeled “affiliated with the state”. In addition, Musk’s plans to turn Twitter into a bastion of free speech, relaxing content moderation rules and getting rid of bots threaten the widespread use of fake accounts in China to fuel pro-Beijing propaganda and disinformation. .

More generally, Musk, the world’s most famous libertarian, will run a social media platform while still doing business with the world’s most powerful authoritarian regime. You don’t have to be a jealous billionaire to wonder if there might be any tension.

Photo: Vladimir Putin, with Xi Jinping.  (Getty/Kenzaburo Fukuhara)
Sinologists discuss this in private when they talk about Putin and Xi Jinping

Marga Zambrana

Also, China has leverage over Tesla. The country accounts for nearly a quarter of global sales for the electric vehicle company, which has built a massive data center in Shanghai, China’s largest city. At the moment of truth, Beijing has ways to hurt Tesla in the Chinese marketperhaps regulating in favor of their local competitors or stealing their data and technology.

Interestingly, when Shanghai entered its confinement due to covid-19 More than a month ago, we didn’t hear a word from the billionaire, who previously cited California restrictions – and high taxes – to justify moving Tesla’s US headquarters to Austin, Texas.

“Tesla shares are already at lows because Musk has sold billions of dollars of his shares and is using his remaining stake as collateral to pay for Twitter,” says Eurasia Group analyst Scott Bade. “China is important to Tesla, not only as a market but also as a source of rare earths for its electric vehicles, and there are fears that it could use both to influence Musk on Twitter.”

On the other hand, maybe these China fears for Musk are exaggerated. Why? For one thing, Twitter, blocked by China since 2009, had just 10 million daily active Chinese users (via VPN) in 2016, the last time the US platform checked. Compare that to a whopping 573 million on Sina Weibo, China’s answer to Twitter, which is fully controlled by Chinese censors.

On the other hand, any gesture perceived as leaning toward China would pose huge risks for Tesla and Musk himself in the United States, where Twitter is more influential. In the current highly polarized political environment in the US, being against China is perhaps the only thing that the extremes of Twitter can agree on. A Musk loves a good culture war, But getting caught on the wrong side of the US-China rivalry could lead many Americans to stop buying Teslas.

Photo: Cardinal Joseph Zen. (EFE)
Release on bail for Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen, critic of the Chinese regime

EFE

Furthermore, Twitter, while growing in importance, is still not an important part of China’s broader social media strategy to win over foreign netizens. “Musk is unlikely to be subjected to any major pressure to quell ‘anti-Chinese’ voices on Twitter, or to seize the personal data of Chinese dissidents in the short term,” says Bade. “Beijing has many other tools available to counter negative news and track down its enemies.”

By last, China needs Tesla as much as Tesla needs China, at least for now. Tesla has invested billions of dollars there, and its presence has spurred local EV makers to be more competitive. China wants to become an electric vehicle powerhouse by building on Tesla’s momentum, and it’s hard to imagine Xi letting Twitter stand in his way as the Chinese economy continues to falter due to his policy of zero covid.

*This article was originally published in English on GZERO Media. If you are interested in international politics, but want someone to explain it to you, subscribe to the Signal newsletter here.

Following the news that Tesla CEO Elon Musk was going to buy Twitter, one of the strangest and most viral reactions came from… su double chino. “My man, my man. I love you,” said the self-proclaimed Yi Long Ma, who has become an internet celebrity for videos of him mocking Musk on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. The world’s richest man himself gave Yi Long a shout-out late last year, joking that he may be part Chinese. His counterpart in China is clearly excited about the idea of ​​Musk owning the social network. But will the world’s richest man’s ties to Beijing hurt him and Twitter? There are two sides to this discussion.