- - Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Michael Bloomberg owes the Chinese people an apology.

At a business forum he hosted in Singapore earlier this month, the former New York mayor and Democratic presidential candidate felt compelled to publicly condemn former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s characterization of China’s government as a “coercive autocracy.” Mr. Bloomberg offered his apologies to anyone at the forum that might have been offended by Mr. Johnson’s remarks about “certain countries and their duly elected leaders.”

Nonsense. China is governed by the iron fist of the Chinese Communist Party and its general secretary, Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi was not elected by the Chinese people; he was appointed by a small group of Communist Party leaders behind closed doors. The CCP doesn’t even attempt to hide this fact; it is written in the country’s constitution. What part of “dictatorship of the proletariat” does Mr. Bloomberg not understand?

Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks were problematic for a variety of reasons. First, as the head of a lucrative media and commercial empire, he has seen his company face a litany of complaints over its efforts to censor news critical of China. He maintains substantial business interests in China and is aware that publicly offending Beijing can be fatal to a company’s bottom line. Mr. Bloomberg’s apology was almost certainly directed at the Chinese officials in the room, particularly Vice President Wang Qishan.

Second, and equally concerning, Mr. Bloomberg was nominated earlier this year to head the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory board established in 2016 to provide recommendations to the secretary of defense on emerging technologies. So, the head of a committee that works with “sponsors” in the Pentagon to “ensure U.S. technological and military dominance” thinks Mr. Xi was “duly elected”? And he’s afraid of offending Beijing?

Third, unlike his deference to Chinese officials, Mr. Bloomberg had no qualms about publicly rebuking a U.S. ally. It sets a bad precedent and works at cross-purposes with U.S. efforts to build multilateral coalitions to push back on Chinese overreach. Many coalition partners are more vulnerable to Chinese coercion than we are and expose themselves to greater risk when they criticize Beijing. If prominent U.S. voices are not only afraid to call China an autocracy but also criticize those that do, it weakens partner resolve and confidence, making coalition-building more challenging.

Fourth, Mr. Bloomberg’s remarks are particularly unfair to the many Chinese citizens that have been traumatized by Beijing’s repressive policies. From China’s ubiquitous surveillance cameras and its draconian COVID-19 lockdowns to the concentration camps in Xinjiang, Chinese citizens have borne the brunt of Mr. Xi’s coercive autocracy.

Many are alarmed by the return to one-man rule after Mr. Xi discarded the norm restricting leaders to two terms. Why isn’t Mr. Bloomberg worried about offending them?

Today, Chinese students in the U.S. and elsewhere are bravely defying threats to their personal safety by speaking up and protesting on college campuses to denounce Mr. Xi’s power grab. They deserve the international community’s support, not apologetic excuses for Communist Party rule from a privileged American billionaire who doesn’t know what it’s like to live under Mr. Xi’s oppressive government.

• Jeff Smith is director of the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. Michael Cunningham is a research fellow at the center.

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