Amazon founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos on Monday mulled whether China has gained leverage over what happens on Twitter now that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has secured a $44 billion deal with the social media company.
"Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage of the town square?" Bezos tweeted in response to a New York Times reporter who noted Tesla’s reliance on China for its large market and lithium batteries.
The reporter noted that Tesla's second-biggest market after the U.S. in 2021 was China and that Chinese battery makers are major suppliers for Tesla's electric vehicles. He also noted that when China banned Twitter in 2009, the government "had almost no leverage over the platform." He then suggested that, due to Musk's acquisition, "That may have just changed."
Bezos, however, went on to say that Beijing likely did not gain leverage over Twitter.
"My own answer to this question is probably not," the Amazon founder added. "The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter."
"But we’ll see. Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity," Bezos added.
The "town square" presumably refers to Musk’s tweet after securing the deal with Twitter: "Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated."
Bezos’ commentary on Tesla’s relationship with China is peculiar given a Reuters investigation in December that found Amazon had capitulated to demands from China to continue doing business and grow the company there.
In addition, some 38% of Amazon's top-selling brands are based in China, a report from the firm Daxue Consulting found late last year.
And, in 2019, the Washington Post – which Bezos bought in 2013 – included an eight-page "advertising supplement" touting the achievements and talking points of the Chinese government in a section that was off-limits to the paper’s editors.
Bezos stepped down as Amazon’s chief executive last summer after nearly 27 years with the company and transitioned to executive chairman of the company.
Bezos and Musk have traded barbs over the years, taking shots at each other’s companies. Earlier this month, Musk quipped on Twitter that the Washington Post was "always good for a laugh," in response to an op-ed titled: "Elon Musk’s Twitter Investment Could Be Bad News for Free Speech."
Fox News' Tyler O'Neil contributed to this report.