The Industry

Elon Musk Slides Into Donald Trump’s Mentions, Maybe Accidentally Inspires a Trade War with China

This doesn't seem like the outcome Musk wanted.
This doesn’t seem like the outcome Musk wanted.

With just five tweets, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk may have accidentally convinced President Trump to assume a more aggressive trade stance against China on Thursday.

Shortly after noon on Thursday, Musk wrote a series of tweets directed at Trump noting how China’s high tariffs and manufacturing regulations for cars have made business difficult for Tesla. Musk seemed to be encouraging Trump to push China to institute more equal and less stringent trade rules:

In a message to The Verge, Musk noted that he’d like Trump to take action on the issue and wrote, “It is better if all countries lower tariffs.”

Trump held a press conference a few hours later about his proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum. There, the president praised SpaceX’s recent accomplishments and read Musk’s tweet about the disparity in import duties aloud.  But then everything went upside down when Trump said, “We’re going to do a reciprocal tax program at some point, so that if China’s going to charge us 25 percent or if India’s going to charge us 75 … if they’re at 50 or they’re at 75 or they’re at 25, we’re going to be at those same numbers. It’s called reciprocal. It’s a mirror tax.”

It’s unclear if Trump thinks this game theory is going to eventually work out to lower tariffs around the globe. But, as The Verge’s transportation reporter Sean O’Kane wrote on Twitter, this tit-for-tat approach to tariffs is the exact opposite of what Musk wanted.