“There’s a very strong incentive for us to be very confidential with any information,” the Tesla CEO said in a virtual discussion with Xue Qikun, a Chinese quantum physicist, as reported by Reuters. “If Tesla used cars to spy in China or anywhere, we will get shut down.”
Mr Musk made the comments in response to the news that the Chinese is apparently restricting the use of Tesla vehicles by its military and state-owned companies, the Wall Street Journal reports.
This is due to apparent concerns from Beijing that the data gathered by the cars’ 12 sensors, eight cameras, and radar could be a national security risk.
The allegations from China seem similar to those placed on Huawei and TikTok by the former Trump administration, who claimed data from the smartphone giant and the viral video app, respectively, could be used by the Chinese government against the US.
Tesla sold 147,445 vehicles in China last year, making up 30 per cent of the total number of cars sold, so further restrictions from the country could severely impact the electric car company’s market share.
In the discussion, Mr Musk apparently urged greater cooperation between China and the United States, according to the BBC. “Even if there was spying, what would the other country learn and would it actually matter?,” Mr Musk said.
Tesla has had contrasting responses to criticism from the US government compared to that of the Chinese government.
When Mr Musk was being investigated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in 2018, the Tesla board rejected a settlement from the SEC as Mr Musk threatened to resign on the spot.
Moreover, Mr Musk has called coronavirus restrictions “fascist” and demanded that authorities “give people back their goddamn freedom”.
However, Tesla gave an apology to the Chinese government when a staff member blamed the country’s national grid for damaging a customer’s car.
Tesla’s operation in China has also explicitly aligned itself with the Chinese government’s economic aims, saying that it would “contribute to the new development structure of China’s ‘dual circulation,’” - a reference to Xi Jinping’s aim to make the county “more self-reliant and therefore resistant to Western pressure”, Bloomberg reports.
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