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Jeff Bezos accuses Elon Musk of Chinese influence

Head of Amazon Jeff Bezos arrives for the Axel Springer award ceremony on April 24, 2018 in Berlin, Germany. (Jorg Carstensen/DPA/Zuma Press/TNS)
April 26, 2022

On Monday, billionaire Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos questioned if Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter would give the Chinese government more “leverage” over the Americans. Bezos himself has been scrutinized for Amazon’s questionable work with China.

“Interesting question. Did the Chinese government just gain a bit of leverage over the town square?” Bezos wrote in response to another tweet that claimed Tesla’s second-biggest market was China.

“My own answer to this question is probably not,” Bezos continued in a separate tweet. “The more likely outcome in this regard is complexity in China for Tesla, rather than censorship at Twitter.”

“But we’ll see. Musk is extremely good at navigating this kind of complexity,” he added.

Bezos’ comments come just months after Amazon was caught promoting Chinese propaganda and removing negative reviews for collections of texts and speeches by Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in order to maintain its access to the Chinese market.

According to two people with knowledge of the decision who spoke to Reuters, Amazon had been selling collections of Xi’s texts — including “Xi Jinping: The Governance of China” — when the Chinese government reached out to the online retail giant in 2019, demanding that it turn off its ratings and comments features after negative reviews began to surface.

One source had said China’s calls for censorship came after the first negative review appeared on the website. “I think the issue was anything under five stars,” the highest rating in Amazon’s five-point system,” the other source said.

The sources said an internal document revealed Amazon’s partnership with China’s propaganda department to establish “China Books,” a portal offering more than 90,000 Chinese books for sale, which was described as “crucial to winning support in China.”

Amazon also came under fire in 2019 when documents reviewed by The Guardian revealed hundreds of schoolchildren in China were being used to make the company’s popular Alexa devices.

The documents showed that many children were forced to work nights and overtime in an attempt to meet production goals. Foxconn, the company in charge of production, admitted to illegally employing children under the guise of a so-called “internship program.”

“If we find violations, we take appropriate steps, including requesting immediate corrective action,” an Amazon spokesman said at the time. “We are urgently investigating these allegations and addressing this with Foxconn at the most senior level. Additional teams of specialists arrived on-site yesterday to investigate, and we’ve initiated weekly audits of this issue.”

In 2013, Bezos purchased The Washington Post for $250 million.

“I understand the critical role the Post plays in Washington, DC and our nation, and the Post’s values will not change,” Bezos wrote at the time, according to Reuters.

“There will of course be change at the Post over the coming years. That’s essential and would have happened with or without new ownership,” Bezos added. “We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”