Elon Musk’s whirlwind China trip included talks with vice premier

Handout photo of Tesla CEO Elon Musk at Shanghai Gigafactory

SHANGHAI (Reuters) -Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk departed Shanghai on Thursday, wrapping up a two-day trip to China in which he met senior Chinese government officials including the highest-ranking vice premier.

Photos and a video of Musk’s visit late Wednesday to Tesla’s Shanghai factory – the automaker’s biggest production hub – showed him holding up a “Giga Shanghai” sign, flanked by hundreds of staff including Tom Zhu, head of global manufacturing.

The video released by Tesla showed Musk praising employees for “overcoming so many difficulties and challenges” and making a heart sign with his hands.

Earlier in the trip, Musk met with China’s foreign, commerce and industry ministers in Beijing and dined with the chairman of battery supplier Contemporary Amperex Technology Co Ltd (CATL).

He also met with Chinese Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang on Wednesday, a source familiar with the matter said. Ding is the sixth highest-ranked leader in the Politburo Standing Committee, the top governing body led by President Xi Jinping.

This marks the first time that Ding is known to have had a one-on-one meeting with a foreign CEO. China values its relationship with Tesla and in 2019 Musk had a one-on-one meeting with then premier Li Keqiang.

Tesla, the State Council Information Office, which handles media queries on behalf of the Chinese government, did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Musk also met with Chen Jining, Shanghai’s party secretary, who welcomed Tesla to increase its investments and expand businesses in the city, according to a statement from the municipal government on Thursday.

Since his arrival in China on Tuesday morning, the U.S. billionaire has been showered with praise by the Chinese public, but Musk himself has been uncharacteristically silent and has yet to make any public statements.

Little is known of the conversations he had with Chinese government officials so far. The sources, who were not authorised to speak to media and declined to be identified, did not provide details of Musk’s discussions with Ding.

The industry ministry said only that Musk and its head exchanged views about the development of electric vehicles and connected cars; the commerce ministry announced Musk had discussed Tesla’s development in China with its minister.

The U.S. billionaire’s private jet took off from Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport on Thursday morning, heading for Austin, Texas, where Tesla’s global headquarters is located, according to flight-tracking platform Variflight.

(Reporting by Zhang Yan, Brenda Goh and Nicoco Chan in Shanghai and Julie Zhu in Hong Kong; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)