Bloomberg Says China Can Be Pressured But Doesn’t Use Dictator

Michael Bloomberg said it’s unrealistic to think the U.S. can stop doing business with China but that as president he could simultaneously pressure Beijing to halt human rights abuses and become a more open society.

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.”

It was Bloomberg’s first CNN town hall, an event that has become routine for many of his Democratic rivals. He had mostly appeared in controlled campaign events and through the flood of ads across the country with more than a half-billion dollars in spending.

(Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

The format allowed Bloomberg to speak about some of the topics that he has made the focus of his life since leaving the New York mayor’s office in 2013, such as gun control and climate change — something he said he found difficult to do in Tuesday’s raucous presidential debate.

Yet in engaging voters, he struggled to demonstrate the personal touch that is essential to many successful presidential campaigns. He took a question from a man whose wife was killed in the 2015 church shooting in Charleston committed by a white supremacist. Bloomberg answered his question about steps to resolve gun-violence without expressing sympathy for the victim’s family.

Bloomberg was asked by a potential voter whether he’d put human rights or the U.S. economy first. He said that while China’s record on human rights is “a disgrace,” the two economies are linked and China must be a partner on addressing climate change. But pressure can be brought on human rights and issues such as the theft of intellectual property, he said.

“You’re not going to war and try to force them,” he said. “We should get used to the fact that China is going to keep growing and become stronger and we have to figure out a ways to work with them while protecting our industries and protecting our country militarily.”

On other topics, Bloomberg also said he has contacted the women, or their lawyers, involved in three non-disclosure agreements he’s agreed to lift related to offensive comments they said he made at his company, allowing them to speak publicly if they want. He said he doesn’t know whether anybody will.

Elizabeth Warren has criticized Bloomberg on the issue, calling on him to issue a blanket release for any non-disclosure agreements.

Bloomberg didn’t answer host Anderson Cooper’s question about how many complaints there have been against his company but said he’s changed the firm’s policy to no longer use NDAs and hopes it could become a trend.

“If we have done it, maybe some other big companies will do it and maybe we can start a national trend because I think the conduct that the MeToo movement has exposed is really outrageous,” he said.

The former New York mayor also reiterated that that if he becomes president, he will put his company into a blind trust and sell it “because I don’t want the conflicts that Donald Trump has.”

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