In an interview with the Financial Times last week, Elon Musk revealed that figures in the Chinese government have asked him directly to withhold Starlink access within China. Musk told FT that, in the publication’s summary, “Beijing has made clear its disapproval of his recent rollout of Starlink...in Ukraine” and “sought assurances he would not sell Starlink in China.”
It’s unclear from the description whether Musk agreed to Beijing’s request, but Starlink’s service map shows no plans to deploy in China. Adjacent countries like Taiwan, Mongolia and Vietnam are listed as “pending regulatory approval.”
Starlink’s service map shows no plans to deploy in China
Offering a connection to the internet that sidesteps conventional service providers, Starlink has been a popular idea for circumventing network-based censorship around the world. Most recently, Starlink enabled access in Iran in response to widespread protests and accompanying censorship. Internet censorship in China, however, is far more organized and persistent — and any ongoing attempt to evade it through Starlink would likely incur retaliation from the central government.
The anecdote is a reminder of how exposed Musk is to international pressures, even as he champions free speech principles in his public statements. As FT points out, Tesla maintains a factory in Shanghai, and the company has reportedly sold more than 80,000 cars in China. Musk has remained broadly aligned with Chinese government as a result, even authoring a column for a magazine run by the country’s internet censorship agency.
At the same time, Musk is more likely than ever to take ownership of Twitter. After months of confusing gamesmanship, Musk recommitted last week to purchasing the social network at his originally agreed price, telling a judge in his civil case with the company that he believes the deal will close before October 28. Twitter remains officially blocked in China.