BEIJING (Reuters) – Michael Bloomberg apologized last week at a business forum hosted by the news agency he founded for comments by former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticizing China as authoritarian.
The controversy highlights China’s influence in Asia and sensitivities about public criticism of Beijing.
Bloomberg, the former New York mayor who ran for president in 2020, apologized Thursday at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, a business gathering whose speakers included Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and whose delegates included Chinese businessmen.
“Some may have been insulted or offended last night by parts of the speaker’s remarks referring to specific countries and their duly elected leaders,” Bloomberg said in remarks posted on Twitter.
Referring to Johnson, Bloomberg said, “Those were his thoughts and ideas alone, and they were not previously clarified by anyone or shared with me personally… To those of you who were upset and concerned by what the speaker said, you have my apologies.” “
A spokesman for Bloomberg LP, which includes Bloomberg News and where Michael Bloomberg is CEO, declined to comment to Reuters.
Johnson, who stepped down as British leader in September, sharply criticized the political system and leaders in China and Russia in his speech on Wednesday.
“Let’s take a look at Russia and China, two former communist regimes in which power is once again concentrated in the hands of a single ruler, two monocultural countries that have traditionally been hostile to immigration and are becoming increasingly nationalistic in their positions,” Johnson said, according to his spokesperson.
Johnson said Beijing and Moscow “are willing to show an outright disregard for the international rule of law and have over the past year demonstrated the enormous limitations of their political systems through the catastrophic mistakes they have made.”
China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Johnson’s spokesman said the former leader was invited by Bloomberg himself and that his criticisms were aimed at the Chinese government, not the nation or its people.
“Mr Johnson is strong in his criticism of authoritarianism and authoritarianism – including in Russia and China – and will continue to be,” the spokesperson said. He will continue to bring the cause of freedom and democracy to the world stage.”
Bloomberg did not specify whether his apology was directed at the Chinese or the Russians. But he was wearing a small Ukrainian flag armband on his suit, criticized President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal invasion” of Russia’s neighbor, and announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would address the forum remotely.
There were no Russian state speakers included in the forum programme.
(Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard) in Beijing; Additional reporting by Chin Lin in Singapore. Edited by William Mallard
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