Taiwanese politicians have dismissed comments from Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, that allowing China to have some control over the island would resolve the cross-strait dispute, urging him to respect the wishes of Taiwan’s citizens.
Musk’s suggestion to “figure out a special administrative zone for Taiwan that is reasonably palatable,” given in an interview with the Financial Times on Saturday, was welcomed by China’s ambassador to the US.
The ambassador, Qin Gang, said “peaceful reunification and ‘one country two systems’ are our basic principles for resolving the Taiwan question … and the best approach to realizing national reunification.”
China’s government claims Taiwan is a province, and has threatened to annex it by force if it cannot be “unified” with the mainland peacefully. Taiwan maintains it is an independent nation and has vowed to resist any attempted invasion or annexation.
Musk’s comments, which were given without further elaboration, united Taiwan’s divisive political environment in rejecting them.
Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the US, Hsiao Bi-khim, said Taiwan’s “freedom and democracy are not for sale”.
“Any lasting proposal for our future must be determined peacefully, free from coercion, and respectful of the democratic wishes of the people of Taiwan.”
The mainland affairs council said Taiwan, which has the world’s leading semiconductor manufacturers, has worked with Tesla for a long time. The council told Bloomberg Musk’s proposal was “based on investment interests to turn a democratic country into a special administration.” It invited Musk to learn about how a free market can develop differently to autocratic China.
Musk made his suggestion, which he thought would involve an arrangement “more lenient than Hong Kong,” in response to a question about the impact of any conflict involving China on his Tesla factory in Shanghai, which reportedly produced about half of last year’s global supply of Tesla vehicles. He said a conflict over Taiwan was “inevitable” and the global economy would take a 30% hit.
“Elon Musk’s opinion means ‘one country two systems’,” said former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou. “I cannot accept this.”
Candidates for the upcoming Taipei mayoral race, often seen as a pipeline for future presidential candidates, also criticized Musk.
Chen Shih-chung, the candidate from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said Musk’s comments were “ill-informed and belittling and could affect our national security”.
“Elon Musk has brought about revolutionary change through Tesla and SpaceX, even helping Ukraine against the Russian dictatorship through Starlink,” he said, referring to the availability of Musk’s satellite internet service in Ukraine. “I’m calling on Elon to hold himself to the same democratic values regarding Taiwan.”
Chen’s opponent from the nationalist Kuomintang party, Chiang Wan-an, said the Republic of China (Taiwan’s formal name) was a sovereign independent country.
A former minister, Lin Chia-lung, accused Musk of being “hungry for the Chinese market.”
“Musk is trading with the devil, and we will not be affected by his word.” He went on to say that Musk knew such a suggestion would put Taiwan into the same status as Hong Kong or Tibet.
Beijing has proposed that it would rule Taiwan under the same system as Hong Kong, and promised that Taiwan would retain some freedoms, but few on the island believe it.
A growing majority of Taiwan’s citizens reject the idea of unification with China, and an increasing number of people support outright independence.
Beijing’s crackdown on dissent and opposition in Hong Kong, less than halfway through a promised 50 years of “a high degree of autonomy” is pointed to by Taiwanese politicians as evidence that they would not remain free.
Beijing’s threats against Taiwan have increased in recent years. In August the CCP’s military surrounded Taiwan and staged live fire exercises in response to a visit to Taiwan by US speaker Nancy Pelosi. Chinese officials later said the drills demonstrated the sort of blockade it may one day use against Taiwan, that Taiwanese people would be subjected to “re-education” after the invasion, and that pro-independence advocates would be punished under Chinese law.
Musk prompted fury earlier this month with another foray into geopolitics, suggesting that Ukraine permanently cede Crimea to Russia in order to bring peace to the conflict sparked by Russia’s February invasion.
Tesla has previously been accused of ignoring human rights abuses in China, after it opened a showroom in Xinjiang in January.
In the interview, Musk also said that Beijing had sought assurances from him that he would not offer Starlink service in China. Beijing is closely aligned with Russia.
Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin