Tesla chief Elon Musk reassures China at World Internet Conference
Bloomberg Business Sep 26, 2021, 09:51
(Bloomberg) -- Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk spoke at the opening of China’s World Internet Conference, reassuring Beijing about his company’s commitment to invest and expand in the country against a backdrop of unprecedented economic turbulence.
The Sunday summit was opened by President Xi Jinping’s promise that China will work with all countries to create a vibrant digital economy and improve supervision effectiveness, in remarks delivered by Vice Premier Liu He. Hosted in the artificial water-town of Wuzhen, this is the eighth edition of a series that Xi launched with much fanfare in 2014 to mark the globalization of China’s internet sphere.
Also participating in the event remotely were Pat Gelsinger, the recently appointed CEO of Intel Corp., and Cristiano Amon, who stepped into the top role at Qualcomm Inc. this summer. The inclusion of these U.S. business leaders alongside domestic firms like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Xiaomi Corp. may restore some sense of normalcy in the midst of an 11-month campaign to rein in the power of big tech.
“At Tesla, we are glad to see a number of laws and regulations that have been released to strengthen data management,” Musk said via video. “Tesla has set up a data center in China to localize all data generated from our business here, including production, sales, service, and charging,” he added, specifying for the first time the kinds of information to be stored locally. “Data protection is not only an issue of one single company but should be a mutual effort for all industry players.”
It marks the second time in 10 days that Musk has lauded China’s credentials as “a global leader in digitalization,” adding on Sunday that Tesla will continue to expand its investment into the country and “hopes to contribute to build a digitized future of shared benefits, responsibilities, and governance.”
Qualcomm’s Amon commended the speed of China’s 5G rollout and the many relationships his company has cultivated with local device makers, urging U.S. and Chinese companies to work together more. Cisco Systems Inc. CEO Chuck Robbins also joined to speak about aligning with Xi’s vision of a shared cyberspace community for the benefit of all.
This collaborative international tone was in contrast to the great domestic upheaval for China’s internet firms. From Jack Ma’s Alibaba and Ant Group Co. to Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Didi Global Inc., the biggest tech companies have weathered a series of crackdowns that expanded from online commerce to gaming, entertainment and online finance. All are dealing with heightened uncertainty as Beijing takes steps to rein in unruly internet spheres and nudge its youth toward more productive pastimes. Tech billionaires from Ma to Meituan founder Wang Xing and Didi’s Cheng Wei have been put on notice, as a raft of edicts wipe out chunks of their fortunes on markets and regulators warn others against speaking out.
“Platform companies should stand up to help solve top concerns from the public and the government regarding corporate management, user privacy protection and data security,” Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in a video message. Both he and Xiaomi co-founder Lei Jun stressed the importance of big companies helping smaller ones prosper. “Platform economies can only sustainably develop if they are more inclusive, more fair, more standardized and allow more people and more SMEs to participate,” Zhang added.
“Governments from around the world should work together to keep the network infrastructure safe,” Liu said in further comments. It is incumbent on world leaders to maintain a level playing field for internet firms and China will open up further to the rest of the world and support the entrepreneurial spirit, he added. The country is capable of managing risks in its economy, Liu said.
Tesla, Intel and Qualcomm are among a handful of U.S. companies with ambitions to expand their business in China. The country is the world’s biggest market for electric vehicles as well as smartphones, making it a crucial battleground for acquiring new customers. Qualcomm processors dominate the Chinese smartphone arena while Intel stands to benefit from the country’s expanding investment in data centers and internet infrastructure to support cloud services.