Republicans Ignore Elon Musk's China Ties as They Cheer Twitter Purchase

A number of high-profile Republican lawmakers and commentators on the right were quick to cheer billionaire Elon Musk's plan to purchase Twitter, contending it would promote "free speech," despite the Tesla CEO's strong ties to China and the country's repressive ruling Chinese Communist Party.

Musk, also the CEO of SpaceX, has previously described China as "the future" and said, "I love China." In early 2019, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang offered Musk "a Chinese green card," or permanent residency, as they met in Beijing shortly after he broke ground on Tesla's first manufacturing base outside the U.S., located in Shanghai.

Before Musk agreed to open that factory, China wooed him with billions of dollars of tax breaks, subsidies, cheap land and favorable loans. Last year, a quarter of Tesla's $53.8 billion revenue came from China, The New York Times reported.

Elon Musk
Elon Musk was offered permanent residency in China after building a Tesla factory in Shanghai. Above, Musk (L) shakes hands with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang as he arrives for a meeting at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound on January 9, 2018, in Beijing. Mark Schiefelbein - Pool/Getty Images

While Republican lawmakers and those on the right are often the first to raise alarms about China—criticizing the powerful East Asian nation's repression of free speech, persecution of minorities and authoritarian tendencies—many came out to praise Musk after it was revealed he offered to by Twitter. Musk, as well as some of the GOP lawmakers, said the purchase would be a win for "free speech."

".@elonmusk's fight for free speech is patriotic and necessary. He deserves the Medal of Freedom," Representative Lauren Boebert, a Colorado Republican, tweeted in April. Boebert previously described China as an adversary and slammed the country's "malign influence."

Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, described Musk purchasing Twitter as positive for free speech.

"This is the public square today, these social, these big tech platforms, this is where we have debate in our culture and our country today," the congressman told Fox News last month. "So let's have someone in charge who respects the first amendment and free speech."

Jordan later tweeted a clip of the interview, writing: "Elon Musk. Free speech."

"I am hopeful that Elon Musk will help rein in Big Tech's history of censoring users that have a different viewpoint," Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, tweeted in late April.

Blackburn's Senate website has a section that lays out how she's been "Taking on China Since Day One." Her website reads: "Over the years, Tennesseans have watched Beijing lie, cheat, and steal its way to the top. The Chinese Communist Party's deception put our songwriters, auto part manufacturers, and countless other industries at a disadvantage..."

"This is a huge win against the woke mob and haters of free speech! I would encourage @elonmusk to immediately: - Allow all factually true and legal content to be posted - Restore the accounts of all duly elected government officials," GOP Representative Jim Banks of Indiana tweeted last month.

Human Rights Watch's 2022 report on abuses in China explained that "an increasing number of people were punished for speeches deemed 'unpatriotic'" in the past year.

"Authorities harassed, detained, or prosecuted numerous people for their online posts and private chat messages critical of the government, bringing trumped-up charges of 'spreading rumors,' 'picking quarrels and provoking trouble,' and 'insulting the country's leaders.'"

The internet is strictly restricted and censored in China. Many prominent websites, such as Facebook, are blocked in the country.

The U.S. government, under the administration of former GOP President Donald Trump, formally accused China of committing genocide against its Uyghur minority population. The Biden administration has maintained that designation. Many Republicans and Democrats alike have readily condemned the Asian superpower's repressive actions, while warning about its growing influence throughout the world.

Some analysts have posited that Musk's purchase of Twitter could result in unique conflicts of interest. Fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, raised Musk's ties to China in a late April tweet.

"Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?" Bezos asked. He went on to answer the question for himself, and to praise Musk as well.

"My own answer to this question is probably not. The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter," the Amazon founder wrote. "But we'll see. Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity," he added.

Whether Musk's purchase of Twitter ultimately goes through remains an open question. The deal is still in process and there are reports that the billionaire may yet try to negotiate a lower price than his initial offer.

Newsweek reached out to Tesla's press office and multiple Republican lawmakers for comment.