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Elon Musk has dismissed suggestions Tesla cars are being used for espionage in China. Photo: Xinhua

Elon Musk denies Tesla cars are being used for spying in China

  • If company ‘used cars to carry out espionage activities in China or anywhere, we will get shut down’, he says
  • Comments come after Tesla cars are banned from military complex over security concerns
Elon Musk, the chief executive of electric carmaker Tesla, has downplayed espionage concerns from China, saying if its vehicles were used for spying, the company would be shut down.

The entrepreneur was speaking at the China Development Forum, hours after a screenshot of an order issued at a military accommodation complex banning Tesla vehicles went viral on Chinese social media.

The notice said that due to the cameras and ultrasonic sensors fitted inside Tesla cars that could expose the location of targets, the vehicles would be banned from entering military facilities to prevent a security threat.

“If Tesla used cars to carry out espionage activities in China or anywhere, we will get shut down … There’s a strong incentive for us to be confidential,” Musk said at the virtual meeting.

A person familiar with the matter said the ban was issued a couple of weeks ago because Chinese leaders were “very concerned”, adding that Musk might visit China next month.

The carmaker did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Saturday.

Musk, who also owns rocket company SpaceX, further downplayed the espionage concerns by citing the example of Chinese-owned video platform TikTok, which the Trump administration threatened to ban if it was not sold to another company, due to national security risks.

The plan was shelved after Trump lost the US presidential election to Joe Biden, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Many people were concerned over TikTok but I think this was an unnecessary concern. We should learn lessons from this,” said Musk, who is a popular figure in China.

He called for mutual trust and said the best situation would be a future in which everyone trusted each other.

Tesla opened a factory in Shanghai in 2018. Photo: Reuters
Musk’s comments came after Chinese and American officials held high-level talks in Alaska in a bid to reset the troubled China-US relationship.

He was taking part in a discussion panel with Chinese quantum physicist and head of Southern University of Science and Technology Xue Qikun.

Xue said there should be more scientific exchanges between China and the US but many of his students were unable to go to America because of visa restrictions.

Tesla, which opened a factory in Shanghai in 2018, has been touted as an example of China’s commitment to international investment and trade.

China was the world’s largest electric vehicle market in 2020 and accounted for 30 per cent of Tesla’s global sales, according to figures from the China Passenger Car Association.