It’s good to see that Elon Musk doesn’t limit his interests simply to his day job, piling billions one on top of another.
In fact, he not only holds firm opinions on a broad range of foreign policy issues, but also translates words into actions. That goes beyond his obvious remit, but who says the world’s richest man should do anything obvious?
A few weeks ago, for example, he refused to allow the Ukraine to use his Starlink satellite internet system for an attack on the Crimea, which slowed down the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Such an attack, explained Mr Musk, would “start a major war”, something it was his duty to prevent.
A lesser man would have been tempted to coordinate that decision with his government. But fair enough, the US government itself seems to have an ambivalent position on any serious Ukrainian advances.
Where it is unequivocal is in its commitment to Taiwan’s independence. How firm that commitment will remain if tested by China’s military action is open to debate, but the official position is unmistakable.
Yet Musk is, or at least perceives himself to be, above such incidentals. He endorses China’s claim to Taiwan, and does so in the exact language of Chinese communists.
Talking to the FT a year ago, he opined that Taiwan should become a “special administrative zone” of China, like Hong Kong. And the other day he expanded on that position in a speech.
“Their policy has been to reunite Taiwan with China,” he said. “From their standpoint, maybe it is analogous to Hawaii or something like that, like an integral part of China that is arbitrarily not part of China mostly because the US Pacific fleet has stopped any sort of reunification effort by force.”
Now Hawaii is a state in the American Union, not its “special administrative zone”. Thus Mr Musk has hardened his pro-China stance into insisting that Taiwan shouldn’t even rate a quasi-independent status.
He is right that it’s mainly the US military muscle that has so far checked communist aggression in the region, although Taiwan itself is no slouch in matters martial. The lines are drawn in the sand, or rather the Strait. The US and the rest of NATO are on one side, communist China on the other. There’s little doubt of which side Mr Musk is on.
Before I comment on the little typographic trick in the title above, let’s look at some possible metaphysical reasons for Mr Musk’s seeming affection for today’s two most pernicious dictatorships.
I’ve known several magnates who have built major companies from the ground up, although none of them was an empire builder on anywhere near Musk’s scale. They were different men in many respects. But one trait they all had in common, apart from an insatiable ambition to succeed, was dictatorial tendencies.
Those men all achieved great power within their own bailiwicks, sometimes even beyond them. And worship of power, accompanied by the reluctance to share even a particle of it, either became their distinguishing character trait or had been just that from the beginning.
I don’t know if Musk is Left or Right, I’m not sure he knows it himself. In the past two elections he voted for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, though these days he mostly supports the Republicans. But he clearly extends his suspicion of pluralism from business to politics.
Psychologically, he must feel kinship with men who exercise raw power, without wasting time on counterproductive chinwags. If he could run a Western country, such as the US, that’s how he’d prefer to run it.
This, however, is only a guess, a homespun attempt at psychological profiling. What is a fact – and this is where the title above gets clear – is that China manufactures some 75 per cent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries and about 50 per cent of all Teslas.
Amicus Xi, sed magis amica pecunia, to paraphrase the well-known saying ever so slightly, although I doubt Musk wastes too much of his valuable time on bowdlerising Latin adages. Given his intimate business links with China, I suspect he’d be parroting China’s policy statements even if they didn’t strike a chord in his heart. Xi may be his friend, but money is a greater one.
Now, a catastrophic nuclear war can break out for any number of reasons and in any number of places. But by far the greatest two threats to the survival of the world are Putin’s Russia, with her aggression against the Ukraine, and communist China, with her hunger to gobble up Taiwan.
At this time, China is undergoing an unprecedented military build-up in the region, with one of her two aircraft carriers detected 60 miles from Taiwan. For an American, even one of recent vintage, to make pro-communist and anti-Taiwan statements at this time is borderline treasonous, but then Musk is a law unto himself.
For a man who self-admittedly suffers from the Asperger syndrome, he certainly has a broad range of interests. Thus Musk has seen few conspiracy theories he couldn’t love, Covid in particular having caught his fancy in recent time.
Musk sees global warming as the greatest threat to humanity, with AI and declining birth rates running in hot pursuit. Hence he advocates a universal carbon tax, obviously feeling that hoi polloi are grossly undertaxed at present.
I’m not sure what he intends to do about AI, but his proposed solution to the ongoing depopulation of “our planet” strikes me as somewhat illogical. For one thing, seeing that the world’s population has increased by two billion in the past 20 years, one has to question how bad the depopulation problem really is.
But then what Musk proposes is to turn our civilisation into an interplanetary one by taking millions of people and putting them on Mars, which, as Musk correctly observes, “has zero human population”. One reason for this is that it may not be fit for human habitation, but in any case Musk’s proposal of removing large numbers of people to Mars would reduce the world’s population, not increase it.
Obviously, even his multiple businesses aren’t big enough to contain Musk’s ego. He wants to be a world, or even interplanetary, statesman. Best of luck to him, but I’d hate to live in a world set up according to Musk’s ideas. But that’s only me.