Authored by Gary Bai via The Epoch Times,
Elon Musk, CEO of Twitter and Tesla, stood in the crosshairs of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) when he chipped in on the discussion on the origin of COVID-19 and brought attention to the theory that the virus leaked from a Chinese laboratory.
The world’s richest person joined in comments about a Wall Street Journal article on Sunday, Feb. 26, which reported that a classified intelligence report by the Energy Department said the virus likely leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). The Chinese regime denies the lab leak theory and has accused its proponents of being conspiracy theorists.
The billionaire hopped on discussions on Twitter following the news, with some users accusing Dr. Anthony Fauci, former head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), of funding gain-of-function research at the WIV before the virus began spreading in early 2020.
“Dr. Anthony Fauci funded gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab, lied to Congress about it, and now both the FBI & the Department of Energy have concluded that the coronavirus originated at the Wuhan lab,” wrote a Twitter user with the handle @KanekoaTheGreat. “Does that mean Dr. Anthony Fauci funded the development of COVID-19?”
“[Fauci] did it via a pass-through organization (EcoHealth),” Musk wrote in a reply, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, former head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and former White House Chief Medical Advisor. Fauci’s NIAID sent $3.4 million in research grants via non-profit EcoHealth Alliance to the Wuhan laboratory.
Though that comment from Musk came as the latest of a series of jabs at Fauci, it stepped on a few nerves across the Pacific.
“Anti-China political forces in America have yet again hyped up the rumor that COVID-19 leaked from the Wuhan Institute of Virology,” reads a Feb. 28 article published in the Global Times, the CCP’s mouthpiece publication, titled “‘Elon Musk, are you smashing China’s pot?” which translates into the western euphemism "don't bite the hand that feeds you."
“Even the famous Tesla boss Elon Musk has joined in,” the article reads.
“Some may think [Musk] made those remarks only to attack Fauci, but the posts he reposted almost all linked the origins of COVID-19 to China. And the argument is repeatedly used by the hostile-to-China U.S. right-wing and anti-China media to frame China.”
The Global Times piece then said the collaboration between the Wuhan laboratory worked and EcoHealth Alliance had “no relation” to researching the coronavirus or gain-of-function research (research that makes the virus more potent or more transmissible, or both), calling anyone who suggests otherwise “internet conspiracy theorists” and “anti-China forces.”
‘Smashing China’s Wok’
The comments from the state-owned media are a signal that the Chinese regime is discontent with the billionaire’s remarks.
The authoritarian regime keeps a close tab on Western businesses that operate in China and often has drastic reactions when it deems any entities to have stepped out of line. These reactions have included exerting pressure on companies to stick to the regime’s narrative or boycotting the companies altogether.
In 2019, in response to an undated statement from retail company H&M that said it is “deeply concerned by … accusations of forced labor” in Xinjiang, the Communist Youth League, following the calling of China’s state television, initiated a boycott campaign. It came amid reports of the detention of more than 1 million Muslim Uyghurs, along with forced sterilization, forced labor, and torture.
Notably, part of the comment by the Youth League is in almost identical wording to that posted by the Global Times on Tuesday, namely: “don’t expect to get fed by the Chinese and smash the Chinese wok at the same time.”
Following the boycott campaign, H&M was removed from online platforms such as Tmall and Alibaba and has seen significant drops in sales in the country.
In Musk’s case, the Chinese regime’s Tuesday signal had a significant shift in tone from the last time Musk waded into Chinese politics.
In an interview with the Financial Times in October 2022, Musk said that he recommends a “special administrative zone for Taiwan that is reasonably palatable” and that such an “arrangement” between Taiwan and the Chinese regime could probably be “more lenient than Hong Kong.” That comment won support from Chinese propagandists who saw Musk’s remarks as supportive of the regime’s clear intentions to claim Taiwan, a self-ruled democracy, as its own territory.
China is Tesla’s second-largest market, with a year-to-date average sales of 1,016 daily in 2023, according to Reuters. But the automaker currently faces strong headwinds from competitors in China such as BYD, who have been introducing new models and interior designs in its electric car products.
The Epoch Times contacted Tesla for comment.