Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg argued Tuesday that Chinese president Xi Jinping is not a dictator because he "serves at the behest of the Politburo."
"In terms of whether he's a dictator, [Xi] does serve at the behest of the Politburo, their group of people," Bloomberg said during the Democratic presidential debate in Charleston, S.C. "There's no question he has an enormous amount of power, but he does play to his constituency. You can negotiate with him."
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The former mayor of New York City conceded that China's human rights record is "abominable" but said in the same breath that the United States must work with China to address climate change. He also said that the United States must negotiate with the single-party state to convince it to adhere to global trade rules and stop stealing U.S. intellectual property.
"Their human rights record is abominable, and we should make a fuss, which we have been doing, I suppose," Bloomberg said. "But make no mistake about it, we have to deal with China.… We have to deal with them because our economies are inextricably linked."
Bloomberg made his comments after being asked about similar statements he made last September in an interview with Margaret Hoover. He said Xi was not a dictator because he "has to satisfy his constituents."
"The Communist Party wants to stay in power in China and they listen to the public," he said. "When the public says ‘I can't breathe the air,' Xi Jinping is not a dictator. He has to satisfy his constituents, or he's not going to survive."
He also said that no government can survive without the "will of the majority of its people."
These comments came shortly after Bloomberg announced he would hold an economic forum in Beijing last November. Bloomberg's company has extensive business ties with China, bringing in 5 percent of its revenue from mainland China and Hong Kong. Bloomberg still holds a stake in his company but has committed to selling his stakes if elected president.
Bloomberg's comments outraged even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), who has recently come under fire for defending another communist dictator, Fidel Castro of Cuba.
"I was amazed at what Mayor Bloomberg said a moment ago," Sanders said on the debate stage. "He said that the Chinese government is responsive to the Politburo, but who are they responsive to? Who elects the [Politburo]? You have a real dictatorship there."