Foreign Policy Digital

Smiles Won’t Get CEOs Far in China

Beijing sees business as politics, and multinationals need to adjust.

As far as Elon Musk is concerned, his trip to China this month went just great. He arrived back in the United States after a meet-and-greet with Wang Qishan, China’s newly appointed U.S. interlocutor. The Tesla, Inc. CEO reflected admiringly on Wang’s knowledge of culture and philosophy, and he claimed “the world has never seen human energy & vigor at such scale” as in China.

Musk’s enthusiasm represents a common reaction from CEOs, from Apple’s Tim Cook to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, after hobnobbing with top-level Chinese leaders. Entrepreneurs almost always walk away from showy, flattering meetings convinced that the Chinese side is sympathetic to their needs and that they can play a pivotal role in the complex relations between Washington and Beijing. But they’re badly mistaken,

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