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Bloomberg’s Warped Perception of China

Bloomberg is determined not to call Xi Jinping a dictator:

In a CNN town hall on Wednesday, Bloomberg declined to call Chinese President Xi Jinping a dictator, saying “it’s a question of what is a dictator,” and that while China is not a democracy, leaders are still chosen by a small group of people and are replaced periodically.

“I think the question is, if your definition is a democracy where people vote and pick their leaders, that is not what China is about,” Bloomberg said. “They like their system, and I think they’re wrong, I think they’d be better off opening things up.”

Bloomberg’s unwillingness to use the word dictator to describe the head of a one-party authoritarian state is strange. This isn’t a matter of diplomatic politesse. It is possible to call things by their right names and still pursue cooperation with another government when our interests and theirs overlap. The former mayor is sticking to his Politburo defense:

Well it’s a question of what is a dictator. They don’t have democratic — a democracy in the sense that they have general elections, that is true. They do have a system where a small group of people appoint the head, and they churn over periodically.

If you go back and look at the last two or three decades there’ve been a number of people that had the same position that Xi Jinping has.

It’s true that Xi has had predecessors in the same role. It’s also true that this periodic change in leadership doesn’t make their system any less of an authoritarian dictatorship. Bloomberg also ignores how much Xi has consolidated power over the last seven years. Under Xi, they have removed term limits, so he will probably be able to remain in that position for the rest of his life. Xi has cultivated a cult of personality around himself more than any previous leader since Mao:

President Xi Jinping, poised to rule over China indefinitely, is at the center of the Communist Party’s most colorful efforts to build a cult of personality since the death of People’s Republic founder Mao Zedong in 1976.

Xi’s image dominates the front pages of state newspapers, hours of state television broadcasts, magazine covers, posters sold at markets, billboards around parks and signs posted along sidewalks.

On television, Xi is often depicted as being wildly adored by anyone from factory workers and farmers to space engineers and soldiers who typically applaud Xi for several minutes.

This is common knowledge, and it has been going on for years. Bloomberg must know this, but he hides behind this idea of a periodic “churn” in leaders as if that matters. The problem here is not just that Bloomberg refuses to use the accurate term, but that his refusal reflects an unwillingness to tell the truth about what the Chinese government is because so much of his business is tied up in their market. This is not Bloomberg’s failing alone, but he is representative of business leaders that bend over backwards to avoid offending the Chinese government. Bloomberg’s perception of the Chinese government is unavoidably warped by his dealings with them, and it raises the fair question of why anyone should trust his judgment about the U.S.-China relationship.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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