Michael Bloomberg last week apologized at a business forum hosted by the news agency he founded for remarks by former British prime minister Boris Johnson criticizing China as autocratic.
The controversy highlights China’s influence in Asia and sensitivities about overt criticism of Beijing.
Bloomberg, a former New York mayor who ran for president in 2020, apologized on Thursday at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, a business gathering whose speakers included Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan (王岐山) and whose delegates included Chinese businesspeople.
“Some may have been insulted or offended last night by parts of the speaker’s remarks referencing certain countries and their duly elected leaders,” Bloomberg said in remarks posted on Twitter.
Referring to Johnson, Bloomberg said: “Those were his thoughts and his thoughts alone, not cleared in advance 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 Bloomberg is the CEO, declined to comment.
Johnson, who stepped down as Britain’s leader in September, had sharply criticized China’s and Russia’s political system and leaders in his speech on Wednesday.
“Let’s look at Russia and China, the two former communist tyrannies in which power has once again been concentrated in the hands of a single ruler, two monocultural states that have been traditionally hostile to immigration and that are becoming increasingly nationalist in their attitudes,” Johnson’s spokesman quoted him as saying.
Johnson said that Beijing and Moscow were “willing to show a candid disregard” for the rule of international law and had over the past year “demonstrated the immense limitations of their political systems by the disastrous mistakes they have made.”
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
Johnson’s spokesman said the former leader had been invited to speak by Bloomberg himself and that his criticism was aimed at the Chinese government, not the nation or its people.
“Mr Johnson is robust in his criticism of authoritarianism and autocracy — including in Russia and China — and will continue to be so,” the spokesman said. “He will continue to make the case for freedom and democracy on the world stage.”
Bloomberg did not specify whether his apology was aimed at Chinese or Russians.
However, he sported a small Ukrainian flag badge on his suit and criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal invasion” of its neighbor, and announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would address the forum remotely.
There were no Russian government speakers listed on the forum’s program.
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