The controversy highlights China’s influence in Asia and sensitivities about public criticism of Beijing.
Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York who was running for president in 2020, apologized on Thursday at Singapore’s Bloomberg New Economy Forum, a business meeting that included speakers of China’s Vice President Wang Qishan and Chinese businessmen.
“Some may have been offended or offended last night by parts of the speaker’s remarks referring to certain countries and their duly elected leaders,” Bloomberg said in comments on Twitter.
Referring to Johnson, Bloomberg said: “Those were his thoughts and his thoughts alone, not made clear in advance by anyone or shared with me personally… To those of you who were upset and concerned about what the speaker said, my apologies . .”
A spokesperson for Bloomberg LP, which also includes Bloomberg News and whose CEO is Michael Bloomberg, declined to comment to Reuters.
Johnson, who stepped down as Britain’s leader in September, had sharply criticized the political system and leaders of China and Russia in his speech on Wednesday.
“Let’s look at Russia and China, the two former communist tyrannies in which power has been reconcentrated in the hands of a single ruler, two monocultural states traditionally hostile to immigration and increasingly nationalistic in their attitudes.” That’s what Johnson said according to his spokesman.
Johnson said Beijing and Moscow were “willing to show candid contempt for the rule of law and over the past year had “demonstrated the immense limitations of their political systems through the disastrous mistakes they made”.
China’s foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
Johnson’s spokesman said the former leader was invited to speak by Bloomberg himself and that his criticism was aimed at the Chinese government, not the country or its people.
“Mr. Johnson is robust in his criticism of authoritarianism and autocracy – including in Russia and China – and will continue to be,” the spokesman said. “He will continue to advocate for freedom and democracy on the world stage.”
Bloomberg did not specify whether his apology was directed at Chinese or Russian people. But he wore a small badge with the Ukrainian flag on his suit, criticized President Vladimir Putin’s “brutal invasion” of neighboring Russia and announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would address the forum from a distance.
There were no speakers from the Russian government on the forum’s schedule.