Noah Ente: Michael Bloomberg’s dangerous rhetoric on China

Wednesday, January 8, 2020 - 6:46pm

Recent Democratic entrant into the 2020 U.S. presidential race Michael Bloomberg has faced criticism for a series of comments he made about the Chinese government. In an interview he gave in September of 2019, the billionaire founder of Bloomberg and former Mayor of New York City made the claim that Chinese President Xi Jinping is “not a dictator,” and that his leadership exists as a result of enduring public support in China. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., notably spoke out against Bloomberg’s statement defending Xi Jinping, calling it “nonsense.” Sasse has been a frequent critic of the Chinese regime, its well-documented human rights abuses and its overall authoritarian behavior. He is but one of the many Americans that understand the true nature of the Chinese regime.

Bloomberg’s comments are deeply problematic. For a man seeking to be the leader of the free world, he seems unaware of the extent of China’s efforts to clamp down on freedom for their own citizens and even, at times, those of Americans. Under Xi Jinping, Beijing has created mass detention and indoctrination camps for millions of Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province. Footage from overhead drones has shown prisoners handcuffed to each other and blindfolded, while reports on the camps have indicated that the prisoners are, among other requirements, forced to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party of China and Xi Jinping himself.

Even outside of China, Xi Jinping and the CPC are exerting their influences to stifle dissent and gain further control. The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have seen Chinese-backed authorities perpetrate brutality against the students who are simply demonstrating their support of autonomy from Beijing. People have been beaten, shot and arrested in connection with the protests, which have been taking place since June 2019. China has also tried to use its economic influence and large population to prevent criticism of its policies, as seen with its conduct towards the NBA in October.

These are just a few examples of Beijings actions that are emblematic of totalitarian dictatorships. Xi Jinping has proved his hostility to free speech, a willingness to oppress minorities and utter opposition to giving real autonomy to citizens. Bloomberg, in his interview, said that Xi Jinping is in power because of the desire of the Chinese people. What would the Uyghurs say about that claim? Would the students of Hong Kong share Bloomberg’s view that Xi Jinping listens to “the will of the majority?”

Bloomberg’s sentiments appear more delusional when one considers the makeup of the Chinese government and the changes that have taken place under Xi Jinping. He has consolidated his own power by abolishing his term limits and giving himself the final say on issues across all realms of political, economic and social life. This is not the behavior of a democratic leader who seeks to operate according to the will of his people. These are the actions of a despot who was never directly elected by the Chinese population, enjoys a parliament that is completely loyal to him and seeks only to preserve his own grip on power. If that conduct isn’t emblematic of a dictator, what is?

As a candidate for president, it is concerning that Bloomberg does not recognize the true nature of China’s political leadership. While his company has documented ties to China and a history of controversy in that regard, it should still be expected that Bloomberg, as a political figure, be informed about the country that many of his Democratic competitors have called the biggest threat to the U.S. If Bloomberg wasn’t a presidential candidate, his company’s connection to China would just be the concern of Bloomberg’s investors, consumers, employees and himself. Yet at this point, his political views toward the country, combined with his company’s record in China, can and should be scrutinized by the American public — particularly voters.

Whether in the realm of trade or international politics, China serves as perhaps the chief competitor of the U.S. This fact should not prevent peaceful relations between the two countries. It should, however, cause a future administration to operate with skepticism and be unafraid to publicly call China out on what it currently is and has been for quite some time: a dictatorship. Any politician who remains timid about acknowledging that fact may be too timid to put the U.S. in a strong position to counter China’s rise to global prominence. Americans should be wary of any candidate who shows they are unwilling to stand up to Xi Jinping and show the world that America still provides a superior system of leadership and that civil liberties are worth protecting.

Noah Ente can be reached at noahente@umich.edu.