Fri. May 24th, 2024

A veritable parade of overseas CEOs including Tesla’s (TSLA.O) Elon Musk and Goldman Sachs’ (GS.N) David Solomon have made their way to a reopened China in the last few months.

One notable common strand: they’ve not talked much in public about their trips which have mostly consisted of meetings with government officials, local staff and business partners. Media events and other public engagements, once frequent before the pandemic, are now rare.

Even Musk, known for his unreserved banter on Twitter, was uncharacteristically silent on a whirlwind trip last week.

In 2020, the billionaire celebrated the delivery of the first cars made at Tesla’s Shanghai plant with a dance on stage that was open to the press. This time around, media were not invited to cover his plant visit.

And while Musk has mentioned the trip in two posts since leaving, he didn’t tweet once while in China.

Goldman’s Solomon has similarly been more low-key. In 2019, he gave media interviews and participated in several forums. But during his trip in March this year, his only known engagements were closed-door meetings with regulators, China’s sovereign wealth fund and at a university.

The lack of information from Western CEOs and their companies about the trips to China can be attributed to wariness given that U.S.-Sino political and trade tensions have worsened to their lowest point in decades, said senior staff at chambers of commerce and trade associations.

President Xi Jinping’s increasing focus on national security – in particular a recent crackdown on consultancies and due diligence firms – has also left many foreign companies uncertain where they might step over the line of the law, they said.

Noah Fraser, managing director of the Canada China Business Council, said visiting executives are no longer chasing new business opportunities but are concentrating on maintaining existing relationships and will often stipulate no press, big dinners or speaking opportunities.

They appear to be keeping “their heads down and will have private lunches where they can learn from people on the ground what’s happening,” he said.

Before travelling to China, U.S. CEOs have been seeking advice about how Beijing’s expansion of its counter-espionage law could affect them, according to the head of a U.S. trade association who declined to be identified, citing the sensitive nature of doing business in China currently.

The CEOs also want to know how to deal with Chinese government officials and with questions once the trip becomes public, the association head said, adding it was not in their interest to speak to media and run the risk of being asked to comment on stances taken by Washington and Beijing.

The EU Chamber of Commerce said in a statement that companies operating in China have always exercised a certain level of caution and were now adapting to changes in areas that might be deemed sensitive.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment while Goldman declined to comment.

China’s foreign ministry said in a statement that the numerous visits from U.S. CEOs were a “vote of confidence” in the Chinese economy. That their trips were relatively low-key stemmed from what it called the U.S. government’s “wrong policy” of containing China, it said.

With respect to concerns about its counter-espionage law, it was China’s right to safeguard national security through domestic legislation, it added.

The U.S. Department of Commerce declined to comment.

Sources: Reuters