Fri, 22 Sep 2023

A private jet belonging to Tesla CEO Elon Musk departed Shanghai on Thursday, Chinese flight-tracking data showed, as the tycoon wraps up a visit to China that has seen him express hopes to expand business in the world's largest market for electric vehicles.

Musk's private jet took off from Shanghai's Hongqiao airport just after 11am (0300 GMT), data from Umetrip, which is backed by China's major state-owned airlines, showed.

It was bound for Austin, Texas, where Tesla is headquartered.

The two-day tour was the mercurial tycoon's first visit to China in more than three years.

On Wednesday night he visited Tesla's factory on the outskirts of Shanghai and met employees, a post on China's Weibo social media platform by the car company's global vice president Grace Tao showed.

Earlier in the day Musk met China's Commerce Minister Wang Wentao in Beijing, praising the country's "vitality and promise" and expressing "full confidence in the China market", according to a readout.

Musk and Tesla have not released any statement on the trip, or responded to AFP requests for comment.

The billionaire, who is one of the world's richest men, has extensive business interests in the country and told Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Tuesday that his firm was "willing to continue to expand its business in China", according to the foreign ministry.

Musk's work in China has raised eyebrows in Washington, with President Joe Biden saying in November the Twitter owner's links to foreign countries were "worthy" of scrutiny.

>> Read more : Tesla CEO Elon Musk visits China amid increased tensions with US

The tycoon has also caused controversy by suggesting the self-ruled island of Taiwan should become part of China - a stance welcomed by Chinese officials but that deeply angered Taipei.

Musk is one of a number of Western executives to visit China since the country ended strict Covid-19 controls that saw it largely closed off from the world for almost three years.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said this week that Beijing welcomed visits by international executives "to better understand China and promote mutually beneficial cooperation".

In March, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited Beijing, saying his company enjoyed a "symbiotic" relationship with China.

'Comrade Musk'

Musk, a controversial figure in the West, is widely admired in China, where Tesla's electric vehicles have become a staple of middle-class urban life.

His visit was welcomed by Zhu Qi, a Tesla owner from the central city of Changsha who said she "worships" Musk for his "great personal charm and constant excellence in his field".

"China is still not super open ... so for people like him to come and share some of their knowledge with us, I think it's something meaningful that our country and leaders can learn from," the 33-year-old university lecturer told AFP.

Chinese social media was abuzz with news of Musk's sojourn, with related hashtags on Weibo racking up billions of views.

Photos of a reported 16-course dinner menu laid out for Musk's arrival - featuring seafood, New Zealand lamb and traditional Beijing-style noodles - quickly went viral.

And many users were keen to show their appreciation for a man known affectionately as "Brother Horse" after the first character in Musk's Chinese name.

"For Musk, there are no countries on this planet, only markets ... to hawk your wares," wrote one user.

Some took the opportunity to poke fun at the United States at a time of strained ties between the world's two largest economies.

"Biden must be wondering why China refuses his invitations to meet with top US officials, but rolls out the red carpet for Musk," said another.

A typically tongue-in-cheek meme circulating on the platform this week depicted a statesmanlike "Comrade Musk" standing behind a podium flanked by Chinese flags as besuited officials applauded in the background.

But not everyone was taken in by Musk mania.

Several users noted an after-midnight post showing photos of Musk posing with hundreds of beaming workers in Shanghai.

In recent years a growing number of Chinese tech workers have criticised the industry's long hours and high-stress culture.

"It feels a little outdated to make so many people stay into the middle of the night just to take some photos," one user said.

"So you're all working overtime tonight, huh?" wrote another.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Originally published on France24

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