Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter did more than just shake up the world of social media.
It also reignited a long-simmering feud between billionaires as Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos asked a question suggesting Musk might be compromised by China.
Bezos shared a tweet from New York Times reporter Mike Forsythe, who noted just how tangled up Musk is with Beijing due to his role as CEO of electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla.
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“Tesla’s second-biggest market in 2021 was China (after the US),” Forsythe tweeted, adding that China is also a major supplier of batteries for Tesla vehicles.
Batteries, like many other automotive components, have become increasingly hard to source amid the double challenge of pandemic shortages and higher demand as companies such as Ford attempt to compete with Tesla in the EV space.
“After 2009, when China banned Twitter, the government there had almost no leverage over the platform,” Forsythe wrote, adding: “That may have just changed.”
Bezos wondered aloud what that meant.
“Interesting question,” he wrote. “Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?”
Bezos also added a note of support for Musk… but in a followup tweet, as part of a thread, which makes it less likely people would see that portion of his comments.
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“My own answer to this question is probably not,” he wrote. “The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter.”
In a third tweet, he added: “But we’ll see. Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity.”
Musk has praised China and Chinese leadership, something expected of corporate leaders doing business there.
When China’s state-run Xinhua media company tweeted last year that the nation had achieved it’s “centenary goals” on the 100-year anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party, Musk was quick to reply.
“The economic prosperity that China has achieved is truly amazing, especially in infrastructure!” he wrote in reply. “I encourage people to visit and see for themselves.”
However, Musk does have one thing that makes the “complexity” of the situation at least a little easier: As Forsythe noted, Twitter is banned in China.
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The notoriously sensitive Communist Party leaders in China could still take exception to statements posted on the network. But at a minimum, he saves Musk the headache of running a neutered platform for the Chinese market, which would almost certainly conflict with his lofty goals of free speech on Twitter.
What that means in practice remains to be seen.
Bezos and Musk have been bitter rivals in the burgeoning field of private space commerce, with Musk’s SpaceX and Bezos’ Blue Origin trying to outdo one another.
SpaceX has some lucrative NASA contracts and other deals as it handles placing satellites in orbit and, increasingly, carrying astronauts to the International Space Station.
Blue Origin, on the other hand, last year became the first company to send an all-tourist flight to space on a rocket that included Bezos himself. He’s also won headlines for sending “Star Trek” actor William Shatner and “Good Morning America” cohost Michael Strahan into space.
Musk’s SpaceX has also been getting in the tourist business, including a launch that also became fodder for a Netflix special.
Back on Earth, Musk took a dig at Bezos-owned Washington Post after the newspaper published a column with the headline, “Elon Musk’s Twitter Investment Could Be Bad News for Free Speech.”
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Musk tweeted that the newspaper was “always good for a laugh.”
And if he was rattled by his rival’s China comments, he wasn’t letting it show.
At least not on Twitter.
“I hope that even my worst critics remain on Twitter, because that is what free speech means,” he wrote.