Musk warned about lab leak tweets by China state media columnist

Elon Musk has long benefited from his close ties to Beijing. - Reuters

BEIJING (Bloomberg): A columnist at one of China’s key state newspapers warned Elon Musk against perpetuating the theory that Covid-19 leaked from a laboratory in the country.

An article published Tuesday (Feb 28) by the official WeChat account of China’s Global Times said that "ridiculously, anti-China forces in the United States are again hyping the rumours that the coronavirus originated from a lab leak in Wuhan,” and pointed to Musk’s recent activity on Twitter, the social media network he owns.

The columnist was referring to Musk’s response to a tweet that alleged Anthony Fauci, the former chief medical adviser to the US President, funded research at a lab in Wuhan, once Covid’s epicentre.

Replying to a tweet published by a self-proclaimed citizen journalist asking "does that mean Dr. Anthony Fauci funded the development of Covid-19?” Musk wrote back: "He did it via a pass-through organisation (EcoHealth).” EcoHealth Alliance Inc is a US research organisation that received grant money from the National Institutes of Health.

The rebuke shows the delicate path Musk must tread as he navigates an increasingly febrile relationship between Beijing and Washington. The Global Times warned Musk against pushing the Covid lab leak theory, asking Musk if he was "breaking the pot of China?” - a reference to a Chinese idiom similar in meaning to biting the hand that feeds you.

At risk is Tesla Inc’s privileged position in China, where it owns a factory outright that last year produced almost 711,000 cars, 52% of the US electric-vehicle maker’s worldwide output. Any misstep risks entangling the outspoken billionaire in a geopolitical spat that could hurt his business.

China has long hit back at any suggestion that Covid was leaked either accidentally or deliberately from a high-security lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said Monday at a regular press briefing in Beijing that "origins tracing of Covid-19 is a science matter and shouldn’t be politicised.”

"The conclusion that a lab leak is highly unlikely is a science-based and authoritative conclusion reached by the joint China-WHO mission,” she said.

"It is faithfully reflected in their report, and has been recognised by the world and the science community.”

The Global Times article, published under the pen name Honest Bro, an editor known for their aggressive criticism of the US, said "even Elon Musk, who runs the well-known US electric vehicle brand Tesla, is also involved in this conspiracy that blemishes China.”

Musk, who recently regained his spot as the world’s richest person after Tesla’s stock surged, has long benefited from his close ties to Beijing.

Authorities rolled out the red carpet to help Tesla set up its first plant outside the US in early 2019, and Shanghai government officials assisted the company with resuming production in a timely manner after pandemic-related disruptions.

Musk’s time operating in China hasn’t been entirely smooth.

An expansion of the Shanghai plant was delayed over data concerns about Tesla’s connections to Musk’s internet-from-space initiative Starlink, people familiar with the matter said earlier this year, days after angry Tesla owners swarmed showrooms in China to complain about missing out on another round of price cuts.

Tesla cars also were banned from Chinese military complexes and housing compounds in early 2021 over concerns about sensitive data being collected by cameras built into the vehicles.

Musk tweets are often controversial.

Last year, his missives about Fauci drew criticism from the White House, which called his attacks "disgusting” and "incredibly dangerous.”

Musk, who portrays himself as a champion of free speech, stopped enforcing a policy designed to suppress false or misleading information about the pandemic in taking over Twitter Inc. last year.

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China , Musk , Wuhan , lab , leak


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