The claim that Elon Musk is a ‘tributary state’ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has been making rounds on social media and news outlets alike. The allegation was made by Steve Bannon on his show, War Room: Pandemic, claiming that the Tesla CEO’s business ties to China put him at the mercy of the authoritarian regime.
While it’s true that Musk has a significant presence in China, with Tesla’s Gigafactory in Shanghai producing vehicles for the Chinese market, the suggestion that he is beholden to the CCP is a sweeping generalization that requires scrutiny.
For starters, Musk’s criticisms of China have been well-documented in recent years. In 2019, he called China’s trade policies “unfair,” and earlier this year, he tweeted about the country’s repressive practices in Hong Kong. These are hardly the sentiments of someone who is a “tributary state,” as Bannon puts it.
Moreover, Musk’s ventures in China have been mutually beneficial rather than one-sided. The Gigafactory in Shanghai was built in record time, with the Chinese government providing Tesla with land, subsidies, and fast-tracked permits to get the factory up and running. In turn, Tesla has generated thousands of jobs and contributed to China’s goals of transitioning to clean energy.
To be clear, it’s not uncommon for companies doing business in China to have to navigate the country’s complex political and economic landscape. It’s a reality that businesses face when operating in any country with a different political system than their own. However, it’s unfair to paint Musk as a pawn of the CCP simply because he has made pragmatic decisions about entering the Chinese market.
This isn’t the first time Steve Bannon and his show have made sensationalist claims about people or institutions without providing substantial evidence. Their audience is often comprised of individuals who are already skeptical of China or the mainstream media, making it easier for them to accept outlandish accusations without proper vetting.
Ultimately, Musk’s relationship with China is complex, and it’s unlikely that he is either an ally or adversary of the CCP. Like any CEO running a multinational corporation, Musk is focused on growing his business and expanding into new markets. Casting him as some kind of political pawn does a disservice to his achievements and misrepresents the realities of doing business in China.