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Exclusive: Elon Musk plans China visit, seeks meeting with premier

2023-03-31T09:36:47Z

SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during a conversation with game designer Todd Howard (not pictured) at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, California, June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

Tesla (TSLA.O) Chief Executive Elon Musk is making plans to visit China as early as April and is seeking a meeting with China’s Premier Li Qiang, two people with knowledge of planning for the trip told Reuters.

The exact timing of the visit is subject to Li Qiang’s availability, one of the sources said.

Tesla and China’s State Council Information Office did not immediately reply to requests for comment on Friday.

China is Tesla’s second-largest market after the United States and its Shanghai plant is the electric carmaker’s largest production hub.

A visit by Musk would mark his first visit to China since the COVID-19 pandemic and since Xi Jinping secured a third term as China’s president. Before Li became premier in March, he served as Shanghai’s party secretary where he oversaw the construction and opening of the Tesla factory.

Musk last visited China in early 2020, when he set the internet abuzz by dancing on stage during an event at the Shanghai factory. But he has continued to deliver virtual speeches at forums such as China’s World Internet Conference.

Li and Musk have met before, at the 2019 opening of the Shanghai plant. In 2020, they participated in an online meeting where Musk thanked the then-Shanghai party secretary for supporting the plant’s operations during the pandemic’s outbreak, according to local media reports.

Musk’s planned visit also comes as China is trying to woo more foreign investment to help shore up an economy battered by three years of COVID curbs.

Li has been at the forefront of that effort, speaking over the past week at business events attended by the likes of Apple Inc’s (AAPL.O) Tim Cook and Pfizer’s (PFE.N) Albert Bourla.

The sources did not say what Musk intends to discuss with Li or do in China.

Tesla is grappling with multiple issues, such as delays to its plans to more than double production capacity at the Shanghai plant.

Tesla cars have also been barred from Chinese military complexes and political meeting venues amid concerns over cameras installed on the vehicles, and the company is still waiting for Beijing’s approval to offer its full self-driving technology in China.

China is also one of the largest, non-U.S. revenue streams for Twitter, which Musk took over last year for $44 billion, sources have told Reuters.

Twitter’s China operations have caused divisions within the company between teams keen to maximise the sales opportunity and others concerned about the optics of doing business with state-affiliated entities at a time of growing tension between Beijing and Washington, the sources said.

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