Elon Musk takes part in China event led by Xi Jinping's global cooperation pledge

Tesla chief executive at an event in Washington on March 2020. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk spoke at the opening of China's World Internet Conference, an annual showcase taking place against a backdrop of unprecedented economic turbulence.

The Sunday (Sept 26) summit was opened by Chinese President Xi Jinping's promise that China will work with all countries to create a vibrant digital economy and improve supervision effectiveness, in remarks delivered by Vice-Premier Liu He.

Hosted in the artificial water-town of Wuzhen, this is the eighth edition of a series that Xi launched with much fanfare in 2014 to mark the globalisation of China's internet sphere.

Also participating in the event via teleconference were Pat Gelsinger, the recently appointed CEO of Intel, and Cristiano Amon, who stepped into the top role at Qualcomm this summer.

The inclusion of these US business leaders alongside domestic firms like Alibaba Group Holding and Xiaomi may restore some sense of normalcy in the midst of an 11-month campaign to rein in the power of big tech.

Tesla is pleased to join and support China's digital economy, Musk said on a video call. The company already hosts all its China user data locally and is looking forward to the economic transformation that will be brought about by self-driving cars, the CEO added.

Qualcomm's Amon commended the speed of China's 5G rollout and the many relationships his company has cultivated with local device makers, urging US and Chinese companies to work together more.

This collaborative international tone was in contrast to the great domestic upheaval for China's internet firms. From Jack Ma's Alibaba and Ant Group to Tencent Holdings and Didi Global, the biggest tech companies have weathered a series of crackdowns that expanded from online commerce to gaming, entertainment and online finance.

All are dealing with heightened uncertainty as Beijing takes steps to rein in unruly internet spheres and nudge its youth toward more productive pastimes.

Tech billionaires from Ma to Meituan founder Wang Xing and Didi's Cheng Wei have been put on notice, as a raft of edicts wipe out chunks of their fortunes on markets and regulators warn others against speaking out.

"Platform companies should stand up to help solve top concerns from the public and the government regarding corporate management, user privacy protection and data security," Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang said in a video message.

Both he and Xiaomi co-founder Lei Jun stressed the importance of big companies helping smaller ones prosper.

"Platform economies can only sustainably develop if they are more inclusive, more fair, more standardised and allow more people and more SMEs to participate," Zhang added.

"Governments from around the world should work together to keep the network infrastructure safe," Liu said in further comments.

It is incumbent on world leaders to maintain a level playing field for internet firms and China will open up further to the rest of the world and support the entrepreneurial spirit, he added. The country is capable of managing risks in its economy, Liu said.

Tesla, Intel and Qualcomm are among a handful of US companies with ambitions to expand their business in China. The country is the world's biggest market for electric vehicles as well as smartphones, making it a crucial battleground for acquiring new customers.

Qualcomm processors dominate the Chinese smartphone arena while Intel stands to benefit from the country's expanding investment in data centers and internet infrastructure to support cloud services.

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