Michael Bloomberg has a China problem, and his Democratic opponents, the media, and President Trump should harp on it relentlessly: Bloomberg’s accommodating stance toward China contradicts the emerging foreign-policy consensus on China, as well as the plain evidence before our eyes.
For decades, the conventional wisdom in Washington was that China’s economic liberalization would lead to political liberalization. It was always odd that this theory caught on. The same theory had been au courant in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and in the end political revolution proceeded economic liberalization there. Nevertheless, Western policymakers clung to the notion that rising fortunes would create a Chinese middle class with the clout to successfully demand basic freedoms.
But after the election of Trump, and reforms to the Chinese Communist Party that further empowered Chairman Xi, this consensus has been turned upside down. It is now clear that trade with the U.S. and the prosperity it achieved for millions of Chinese actually empowered and expanded their state’s repression. China has begun to renege on its promises of political liberty in Hong Kong, and is currently carrying on a campaign of ethnic cleansing in its westernmost province, one featuring mass surveillance and the building of re-education camps.
Perhaps worst of all, it turned out that American businesses with significant interests in China, including the NBA, were willing to protect those interest even if doing so meant deploying the Communist political tools of censorship, false propaganda, and public struggle sessions — all of which followed after the relatively mild pro-Hong Kong comments of Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.
Now Bloomberg has entered the presidential race, and his view of China runs in the exact opposite direction of conventional wisdom. “Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents or he’s not going to survive,” Bloomberg told Firing Line’s Margaret Hoover last year. It’s a comment he has repeated elsewhere. “The Chinese government is no less impacted by what their constituents — i.e. citizens, voters — want than anyplace else,” he said at one conference.
Bloomberg’s comments on China are distressing for two reasons. First, they deny the reality that China is a Communist dictatorship, run without the consent of its people, and that what popular legitimacy it does have comes partly as a product of how it has degraded said people. Secondly, they seem to deny the existence of tyranny as a category, to be an assertion that there are no captive peoples.
Naturally, the question arises: Why does Bloomberg believe this and say so out loud? Is there a pecuniary motive at work? He has tried to run a Davos-like economic forum in China, and the massive Bloomberg Barclays Global Aggregate Bond Index facilitates the investment of American capital in Chinese industries controlled by the state. Bloomberg News, a great and well-resourced journalistic outfit, has been called to the carpet by other news organizations for softening its coverage of the Chinese system and its power-brokers ever since a series of hard-hitting stories in 2012 resulted in friction between Bloomberg News and the state. That friction coincided with a decline in revenue from the sale of subscriptions to the Bloomberg empire’s bread-and-butter product, its proprietary financial-analysis terminal.
The evidence suggests that Bloomberg went to some lengths to patch up relations with the Chinese state after that. He even went so far as to suppress internal criticism of his business decisions regarding China, trying to force an ex-employee’s wife to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to buy her silence. Like the NBA’s, his bottom line is given such a massive boost by Chinese dollars that he is willing to lie about the nature of the regime, or at least to delude himself about it. A significant number of Americans has awoken to the reality of China’s regime in the last year, and many fear that Beijing’s iron-handed incompetence may be a risk to their own health. They will conclude that a man like Bloomberg is unfit to be president, as well they should.