Hong-Kong traded Tencent, a company best known for its WeChat messaging app, disclosed in a Tuesday filing that it's taken a 5 percent stake in Tesla for $1.78 billion. The investment follows Tencent's new stake in taxi-hailing app Didi Chuxing, which can be accessed through WeChat.
"I think Tencent likely wanted exposure to a company that was growing very quickly in electric and autonomous" vehicles, said Tasha Keeney, an analyst on the ARK Industrial Innovation ETF (ARKQ), whose top holding is Tesla.
"We think the autonomous mobility as a service market could be $10 trillion in gross sales globally by the early 2030s, and companies like Tesla or Baidu could take a cut of that," she said.
Tesla declined to comment to CNBC. Tencent did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
A Tencent spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that "Tesla is a global pioneer at the forefront of new technologies. Tencent's success is partly due to our record of backing entrepreneurs with capital; Elon Musk is the archetype for entrepreneurship, combining vision, ambition, and execution."
Tesla has 24 stores in mainland China, 114 supercharging stations and 348 regular charging stations, according to the automaker's website.
Last year, China imported 11,839 Tesla vehicles, nearly five times the prior year, according to China market research firm JL Warren Capital. The firm's analysis also showed that China's market share in global shipments jumped from 5 percent to 16 percent last year.
"In general, Tesla's done very well in China," said Brendan Ahern, chief investment officer at KraneShares. Tencent is one of the top holdings in KraneShares' exchange-traded fund KWEB.
"There's a lot of effort in electric cars in China to help address the pollution issue," he said.
Another Chinese tech giant, Baidu, has its own autonomous driving project, while Chinese automakers have joined the Western giants in the race to develop a viable electric car. The investment money has flowed the other way as well: Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway is a top shareholder in Chinese automaker BYD.
"If it weren't for Tesla, I don't think the state of the electric car market would be anywhere close to where it is," said Kevin Carter, founder of The Emerging Markets Internet & Ecommerce ETF (EMQQ).
"Everyone is working on the electric car now, and almost everyone's working on the self-driving car, but the actual hardware of it [is made primarily by] BYD, Tesla," he said. "Who knows how this plays out? There's lots of things getting stirred together in this pot, lots of players, lots of money."