Elon Musk’s tweets about a “coronavirus leak from a Chinese lab” could be a problem for Tesla in China

CNBC reports that Chinese state-run newspaper The Global Times warned Elon Musk against promoting the theory about the “coronavirus leak from a Chinese laboratory”.

Ever since Elon Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter, it was obvious that at some point the content of the service would become the cause of his conflict with the Chinese Communist Party, as Nilay Patel wrote after the deal closed:

“Are you excited for the Chinese government to find ways to threaten Tesla’s huge business in that country over content that appears on Twitter? Because it’s going to happen.”

How quickly it came to this most obvious problem is not surprising, but it is interesting that Elon Musk himself made a post on Twitter about what could damage his relationship with the Chinese authorities.

China is Tesla’s second largest market, home to one of its gigafactories, and a source of materials that are key to the production of electric vehicles. In January, the Bloomberg agency reported that the expansion of Tesla’s factory in Shanghai has been delayed due to government concerns about Starlink, so this is not the first time that Musk’s car company could suffer from his other businesses.

Musk responded to tweets claiming the virus originated in a Chinese lab. The tweets quoted the news, for the first time published by the Wall Street Journal, about a classified report from the Department of Energy, which claimed that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the source of the virus.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the US government to “stop defaming China” and “politicizing” the process of tracing the origin of the virus. The Global Times report says that Musk’s tweets and retweets are being used to “frame” China.

Twitter under Musk has previously predictably caved under the pressure of government censorship, but now the owner’s own tweets have become a problem. Another 2021 Bloomberg report noted that Tesla’s apologetic and respectful response to the government’s actions in China is a stark contrast to the tone in the US, where Musk has at times rejected calls from government officials and suggested that followers came up with new acronyms for agencies like Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).