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Elon Musk Loves China, and China Loves Him Back—for Now

Tesla’s unprecedented success in China has helped Musk become the world’s richest man. How long can the good times last?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Photo illustration: 731; Photographers: Iori Sagisawa/Pool/Getty Images (Xi); Patrick Pleul/picture-alliance/DPA/AP Photo (Musk)

Last Feb. 10, as authorities in China ended work stoppages intended to halt the novel coronavirus, much of the country remained quiet. Transportation was still disrupted, and many workers were stuck in their home provinces. Others had been told to avoid their factories and offices until managers formulated plans to reopen safely.

But on a marshy plain on the outskirts of China’s largest city, Tesla Inc.’s Giga Shanghai was bustling. Thousands of laborers were back on the assembly line, many of them brought in on government-provided buses from dormitories secured by officials to keep them from mingling with the community. The workers had plenty of N95 masks: Unlike many businesses, Tesla had been allocated ample shipments by the bureaucrats who’d assumed control of protective gear supplies. The factory was being cleaned with a disinfectant that required a regulator’s license to purchase, too.