Billionaire Mike Bloomberg became the latest American to apologize for transgressing against China after former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson railed against the country in front of hundreds of prominent Asians at an event Bloomberg organized.
Johnson was invited to speak at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum last week in Singapore. Speaking to about 500 Asian businesspeople and diplomats on Nov. 15, the former prime minister had harsh words for the region’s superpower, China, and its ally, Russia, the Guardian reported.
According to a spokesperson, he said the countries are “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.”
“Two permanent UN security council members that back each other up and enable each other and which are willing to show a candid disregard for the rule of international law, and two countries that in the last year have demonstrated the immense limitations of their political systems by the disastrous mistakes they have made,” Johnson said.
An anonymous guest who saw Johnson’s speech told the Guardian it was “pretty shocking.”
“People felt uncomfortable. He used very undiplomatic language about China, at a conference in Asia,” the guest said.
Two days later, Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor and 2020 presidential candidate, said at the conference that Johnson’s remarks were “his thoughts and his thoughts alone.”
He added that the remarks were “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,” Reuters reported.
Bloomberg added, “He [Johnson] was trying to be amusing rather than informative and serious, and I think we need to give him a little bit of credit for that,” according to the Guardian.
But a Johnson spokesman didn’t leave much room for the possibility that his remarks were made in good humor. They told the Guardian: “Mr. Johnson is robust in his criticism of authoritarianism and autocracy. … He will continue to make the case for freedom and democracy on the world stage.”
China’s control of speech beyond its borders has grown in recent years. Wrestling star John Cena apologized in Mandarin after Chinese backlash to him referring to Taiwan as a “country.” And the NBA carefully worked to regain access to China’s key basketball market after a general manager’s 2019 call to “stand with Hong Kong” kicked off a years-long broadcast ban.