What do Elon Musk, Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg all want from China?

Rhea Liu and Frank Ou

Elon Musk announced at a Tesla press conference today that Tesla has sold 3025 models in China for the first three quarters of this year.

This is Elon Musk’s third visit to China and he’s not alone in China for the moment. Tim Cook is already on his seventh China trip, after assuming the position of Apple CEO four years ago. Mark Zuckerberg will lecture at Tsinghua University for the second time next week where he will likely show off his Chinese skills again.

Why are so many Silicon Valley moguls coming to China? And what do they expect to do here?

Elon Musk

How long will it take for us to land on Mars? Elon Musk answered “ten years” at a meeting with students at Tsinghua University on Thursday. Before attending today’s Tesla press conference, Musk held a public talk with Qian Yingyi, Dean of Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management, where Musk is a member on the advisory board.

Musk impressed audiences again with his audacity. He said we would be able to send people to Mars, probably via his SpaceX program, before 2025 with the expense of the journey reduced to around USD 60,000 per person. He also predicted autonomous driving would be fulfilled within three years and by then drivers, instead of driverless cars, would be regarded as a safety issue.

He also addressed Tesla’s business plans in China. Musk said that Tesla would begin to manufacture Tesla’s Model 3 car in China within two years.

As a businessman, of course Musk has a more important mission than lecturing students in China. Musk introduced Tesla’s firmware version 7.0 update at the press conference this morning and talked about Tesla’s active attitude to localizing in China. He said Tesla had a very positive attitude when communicating with the Chinese government and set their factories in China to mass produce Tesla cars here, which would help Tesla reduce its price in China by 1/3.

According to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, 144,284 new energy cars were produced in China from January to September while 136,733 models were sold, achieving a year-on-year growth rate of 200% and 230% respectively.

Photo from Baidu

Tim Cook

Compared with Elon Musk’s grand press conference, Tim Cook’s visits to China are much more frequent but have not produced anything beyond a clean energy plan. Apple will establish a solar power station able to produce over 600 megawatts of electricity together with its long-term partner Foxconn.

But the clean energy plan doesn’t seem to have attracted much attention in China. Instead, Cook’s visit to the Great Wall of China on a heavily polluted day was teased by Chinese netizens.

During his previous visits to China, Cook met up with top Chinese officials including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and the Minister of Industry and Information Technology, Miao Yu. He has also met with bureaucrats from China’s major telecommunications carriers for partnership negotiations.

It’s easy to understand Cook’s efforts in China considering the importance of the Chinese market. According to Talking Data, a Chinese market research company, five million iPhone 6s’ and 1.63 million iPhone 6s Plus’s were activated in China as of October 11th. Apple’s growth this year would drop down to 10% if the Chinese market were to be cut out, The Telegraph reports.

It’s also reported that Apple has paid a total of USD 30 billion to developers across the world over the past seven years with four billion paid to Chinese developers. Apple now has over 10,000 employees in China.

Photo from Tim Cook’s Weibo

Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will lecture at Tsinghua University next week after first impressing Chinese audiences with his comprehensive Chinese skills a year ago. As with Elon Musk, Zuckerberg is a member on the advisory board at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management. Zuckerberg visited Tsinghua at about the same time last year and conducted a Q&A session in passable Chinese.

Zuckerberg is a hot topic on China’s social media. Internet users adore him as a person and admire his Chinese skills, they also like to gossip about the love story he shares with his Chinese American wife, Priscilla Chan, and how he had to practice his Chinese in order to propose to her through her grandma, who only speaks Chinese.

Though Facebook has not been accessible in China since 2009, Zuckerberg never hides his strong interest in the Chinese market. Zuckerberg once expressed in public that he was reading through Chinese president Xi Jinping’s past publications.

Late last month, Zuckerberg spoke with China’s President Xi Jinxing in Chinese at a forum in Seattle, requesting Xi offer a Chinese name for his unborn child, but Xi rejected his proposal.

Obviously, Zuckerberg hasn’t given up on Facebook returning to China despite Xi’s trivial rebuff. His visit to China next week will be the latest installment in an effort to enter the huge market.

It was reported in March that Facebook was seeking partners in China to help boost its advertising sales for the China region.

Photo from Baidu Image
AllTechAsia Staff

AllTechAsia is a startup media platform dedicated to providing the hottest news, data service and analysis on the tech and startup scene of Asian markets in English.


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