Commentary: What TikTok and Tesla tell us about pragmatism in the US and China

But US aggression towards TikTok contrasts with China’s accommodation of Tesla. Last Sunday, Elon Musk met China’s premier Li Qiang and clinched a favourable agreement with the tech giant Baidu to access its mapping and navigation systems.

Tesla’s chief executive’s grand ambition is to turn the company from a hardware into a software powerhouse. Autonomous driving will be critical to that transition and having access to Chinese data will help.

If Tesla could apply autonomy across a vast fleet of cars “it might be the biggest asset value appreciation in history”, Musk gushed on Tesla’s latest earnings call.

Why Musk should play nice with China is clear. Why China should reciprocate, given its concerns about the security risks of Tesla’s Chinese fleet, is not so obvious, especially when domestic electric-vehicle manufacturers such as BYD see the US company as a deadly rival. But there may be good pragmatic reasons for wooing Tesla.

Analysts suggest Beijing is keen to reignite foreign investment, which has fallen to a 30-year low. Tesla, which sank more than US$2 billion on building a gigafactory in Shanghai in 2019 and now has 1.6 million cars on Chinese roads, could contribute to reversing the trend.

Tesla’s investment has also stimulated the development of China’s own EV industry. And reaching an understanding with Tesla on data security in connected cars may help nullify concern when China sells its own EVs abroad.

Whatever their rhetorical posturing, it is perhaps naive to expect consistency in the policy positions of Washington or Beijing. Naked self-interest is normally a better guide to any nation’s actions, meaning both countries are sometimes flexible on points of principle.

Wherever they can, the US and China adhere to the power law identified by the Greek historian Thucydides centuries ago: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

SOURCE: CNA ( RSS Latest News   (go to source)
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