Elon Musk greeted with flattery and feasts during the China trip

BEIJING, May 31[ads1] (Reuters) – He is “a pioneer”, “Brother Ma” and some want him to become US president. Billionaire Elon Musk has been showered with praise from the Chinese public during his trip to China and at the same time secured an audience with three government ministers.

Since landing in Beijing on Tuesday, the Tesla Inc ( TSLA.O ) chief executive has met China’s foreign, trade and industry ministers and dined with Zeng Yuqun, chairman of top battery supplier CATL ( 300750.SZ ).

While little is known about those discussions — the Industry Ministry has said only that Musk and its chief Jin Zhuanglong exchanged views on the development of electric vehicles and connected cars — that hasn’t stopped an outpouring of enthusiasm for Musk on Chinese social media.

“He’s a global idol,” one user commented. “Elon Musk is just great, if only China could have someone like Elon Musk,” said another.

Musk’s unannounced trip is the latest by a major US CEO to China since the country reversed its zero-COVID policy and reopened its borders. Apple’s ( AAPL.O ) Tim Cook visited in March, while JP Morgan’s ( JPM.N ) Jamie Dimon and Starbucks’ ( SBUX.O ) Laxman Narasimhan are also in China this week.

But compared to low-key welcomes for his colleagues, Musk’s visit is a hot trending topic, and his popularity comes despite rising tensions between the US and China, with keen interest shown in his comments on artificial intelligence and electric vehicles.

Even the menu for the 16-course meal at the exclusive Man Fu Yan restaurant he shared with CATL’s Zeng on Tuesday night was sumptuous, photos posted on social media showed.

Illustrated with two breeding horses – a play on the character for horse used in Musk’s Chinese name – the menu described Tesla as a dark horse “that stands out from traditional car companies”.

Unlike the social media storm in China and his propensity at home to make waves on Twitter (which he now owns), Musk has yet to make any public statements during the trip. Twitter is blocked in China.

Tesla and CATL did not respond to requests for comment. The Commerce Department also did not respond to a request for comment. The State Department quoted the billionaire as describing the US and Chinese economies as “conjoined twins” and saying he opposed their decoupling.

Musk’s first visit to China in three years comes as Tesla faces increasing competition from Chinese-made electric vehicles and some uncertainty about expansion plans for the Shanghai plant.

The factory produced over 700,000 Model Y and Model 3 vehicles last year, more than half of the company’s global output.

It was not clear whether Tesla faces any regulatory hurdles to expanding the facility.

Investors are also keen to know whether China’s regulators will remove the release of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance features. The features are available in the US as part of the “Full Self Driving” software it sells for $15,000 per vehicle.

Musk is expected to meet with other senior Chinese officials and visit the Shanghai facility later this week, sources have said, although it was not clear who he would meet or what issues they would discuss.

Reporting by Martin Pollard; Additional reporting by Josh Arslan, Wang Tingshu and Joe Cash in Beijing and Zhang Yan in Shanghai and Shanghai Newsroom; Written by Brenda Goh; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Martin Pollard

Thomson Reuters

Martin Pollard is China correspondent based in Beijing covering politics and general news. Since joining Reuters in 2017, he has reported on some of the biggest stories in the region, including the Sino-US trade war, the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, the COVID pandemic in China and the Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Olympics. Martin originally comes from South East England and is a former TV reporter and video journalist who has over ten years experience in China and speaks fluent Mandarin.

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