Tesla CEO Elon Musk has hit back at speculation from the Chinese officials after the military banned all Tesla vehicles from their facilities.
The South African-born billionaire’s electric car company has taken the world by storm with hi-tech features such as HD cameras, video games and cutting-edge navigation software. The Chinese military however aren’t as impressed with Musk’s innovation in the auto industry, citing security concerns about the data amassed by Tesla’s onboard computers.
China has been under intense global scrutiny in recent months over the treatment of its Uyghur population, with top Beijing officials eager to keep a lid on information leaking to overseas sources.
Musk was swift in stamping out the rumour Tesla was spying on foreign governments, saying his company would be instantly shut down if proven guilty. Speaking to an influential Chinese business forum via video link this weekend, the 49-year-old dismissed the commotion as hearsay.
“The negative effects for that company would be extremely bad,” Musk said.
“There‘s a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential with any information. If Tesla used cars to spy in China or anywhere, we will get shut down.
China’s 1.4 billion population has become the world’s largest car market, buying up just under 150,000 of Musk’s Teslas in 2020, which was 30 per cent of the company’s global sales.
Musk urged the conference to help build a better mutual trust between the US and China, who have been locked in a series of security disputes involving companies from respective shores. Former US President Donald Trump last year threatened to ban Chinese owned social media company TikTok over concerns citizen data could be obtained by Beijing.
Musk called for calm regarding private businesses overseas who store user data. “Even if there was spying, what would the other country learn and would it actually matter?” he said.
Chinese publication the Global Times said Musk’s comparison to TikTok was “inappropriate”, claiming the two issues were completely separate and that Musk’s business interests on the mainland were see-through.
“While it’s understandable for the US billionaire to call for governments to treat legal operations of foreign businesses in the perspective of the market, it’s inappropriate to associate TikTok’s case with Tesla’s reported ban,” the article, which cites anonymous experts, read.
Even if the reported restrictions on Tesla are true, it’s just limited to “individual sensitive regions,” Song Guoyou, director of the Center for Economic Diplomacy at Fudan University, told the Times.
“Citing groundless security guises, the US government had imposed national restrictions on TikTok’s legal operations in the market, but the Chinese government opened its market and provided supportive measures for Tesla,” Song said.
The latest controversy came a month after Tesla made headlines around the world following an appearance from Musk on South Africa’s ARK Invest podcast, where he claimed drivers would be able to sleep behind the wheel of his self-driving vehicles as soon as next year.
“My guess as to when we would think it is safe for somebody to essentially fall asleep and wake up at their destination? Probably towards the end of next year,” he said.
“I think we will be feature complete, full self-driving, this year — meaning the car will be able to find you in a parking lot, pick you up, and take you all the way to your destination without an intervention — this year.
“I would say I am of certain of that. That is not a question mark.”