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House China chair demands Elon Musk provide SpaceX internet for U.S. troops in Taiwan

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and X, speaks at the Atreju political convention organized by Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), in Rome, Dec. 15, 2023.

Antonio Masiello | Getty Images

The House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party sent a letter on Saturday to Elon Musk demanding that U.S. troops stationed in Taiwan get access to SpaceX’s Starshield, a satellite communication network designed specifically for the military.

The letter, obtained by CNBC and first reported by Forbes, claimed that by not making Starshield available to U.S. military forces in Taiwan, SpaceX could violate its Pentagon contract, which requires “global access” to Starshield technology.

“I understand, however, that SpaceX is possibly withholding broadband internet services in and around Taiwan — possibly in breach of SpaceX’s contractual obligations with the U.S. government,” read the letter, which was signed by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wi., who chairs the House CCP committee.

The Pentagon awarded SpaceX a one-year contract for Starshield in September, after commissioning SpaceX’s Starlink network months earlier for Ukraine’s war against Russia, which hit the two-year mark on Saturday.

The letter comes after Gallagher led a visit to Taiwan where he and a delegation of other lawmakers met with Taiwan officials like President Tsai Ing-wen and President-Elect Lai Ching-te.

The letter said that the lawmakers learned that U.S. troops stationed in Taiwan were not able to use Starshield despite the Pentagon’s stipulation of global access: “Multiple sources have disclosed to the Committee that Starshield is inactive in and around Taiwan.”

The letter requests that Musk provide the House committee with a briefing on its Taiwan operations by March 8.

Taiwan has been governing itself independently of China since the island split from the mainland during the 1949 civil war. China has said it still lays claim to Taiwan and has repeatedly made clear its intention to reunify the sovereign island with the mainland.

“In the event of CCP military aggression against Taiwan, American servicemembers in the Western Pacific would be put at severe risk,” read the letter. “Ensuring robust communication networks for U.S. military personnel on and around Taiwan is paramount for safeguarding U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Tesla’s success hinges on favorable business relations with China, which has led Musk, its CEO, to cultivate cozy relations with the country, despite its broader tensions with the U.S. Tesla operates its own factory in Shanghai while other foreign automakers in China had been required to establish joint ventures.

Musk came under fire from Taiwanese officials last September for seemingly siding with China’s reunification doctrine toward Taiwan, stating that the self-governing island was an essential part of China.

“I think I’ve got a pretty good understanding as an outsider of China,” Musk said on the All-In Podcast. “From their standpoint, maybe it is analogous to Hawaii or something like that, like an integral part of China that is arbitrarily not part of China.”

“Listen up, #Taiwan is not part of the #PRC & certainly not for sale,” Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Jaushieh Joseph Wu wrote on X in response to Musk’s comment.

SpaceX and Musk did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

Read the full letter here:

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