CLAIM: Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg defended his comments about Chinese President Xi Jinping not being a dictator at the tenth Democrat debate on Tuesday, claiming the authoritarian strongman serves at the pleasure of his country’s politburo.
VERDICT: Technically true. Although Bloomberg is technically accurate, his claim misses the nuance of China’s current political climate, especially Xi’s centralization of power and purging of political enemies on the politburo.
At Tuesday’s debate, the former mayor was asked about his foreign policy stance in regards to China. Bloomberg responded by stating that the only way to address issues like climate change or global trade was to understand the importance of negotiating with China.
“In terms of whether he is a dictator,” the former mayor said. “He does serve at the pleasure … the behest of the politburo … there’s no question he has an enormous amount of power, but he does play to his constituency.”
Even though Bloomberg is technically correct, the former mayor ignores the steps Xi has taken since assuming the presidency in the early 2010s to consolidate power and eliminate rivals. As the Washington Post has noted, Xi’s “anti-corruption” efforts have been mostly targeted at political enemies, notably in the politburo—China’s highest ranking policy making body.
The Post reported in 2018:
Since Xi started the push in 2012, authorities have investigated more than 2.7 million officials and punished more than 1.5 million people. They include seven national-level leaders and two dozen high-ranking generals. Prosecutors have tried about 58,000 officials and sentenced two to death.
The eliminations have allowed Xi to push his own agenda through China’s intricate political bodies. The centralization of power was best exhibited in 2018 when the politburo voted to abolish presidential term limits, a move that many international watchdogs believe will allow Xi to rule indefinitely. Bloomberg, however, seems to disagree.
“Xi Jinping is not a dictator,” the former mayor told PBS’s Margaret Hoover during an interview in September 2019. “He has to satisfy his constituents, or he’s not going to survive.”