Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Tesla and SpaceX, sees himself as a man “trying to do the right thing, which is not always clear.”
But in recent days his remarks about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the tensions between China and Taiwan have demonstrated the risks of public diplomacy by a billionaire with complex business interests around the globe.
The Financial Times published a profile on Friday in which Musk proposed his own solution for the tensions between China and Taiwan—handing some control to Beijing. Taiwan is governed independently, but China considers the island part of its territory. He also said Beijing has sought assurances that he won’t offer SpaceX’s Starlink internet service in China.
“My recommendation…would be to figure out a special administrative zone for Taiwan that is reasonably palatable, probably won’t make everyone happy,” Musk told the newspaper. “And it’s possible, and I think probably, in fact, that they could have an arrangement that’s more lenient than Hong Kong.”
The comments matter because Tesla operates an auto plant in Shanghai. At the same time, SpaceX is developing Starlink, a satellite-based internet service that’s proved to be a military asset in Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.
The remarks are also out of step with US policy: President Joe Biden has said the US would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion. The president has also said the US stands by its “One China” policy, in which it has avoided formal recognition of the government in Taipei or providing it a binding security guarantee.
Taiwanese government representatives in San Francisco and Washington didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Earlier this week, Musk angered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy by tweeting out a “peace” plan urging Ukraine to seek a negotiated settlement with Russia that includes ceding Crimea for good. Zelenskiy responded back on Twitter.
Though Starlink has been a key asset to Ukraine, the service has failed Ukrainian troops at times on the frontlines.
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