Michael Bloomberg COP26 in Glasgow, November 2, 2021
Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks with participants prior to a meeting with Earthshot prize winners and finalists at the Glasgow Science Center during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 2, 2021. Reuters

Michael Bloomberg apologised last week at a business forum hosted by the news agency he founded for remarks by British former Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticising China as autocratic.

The controversy highlights China's influence in Asia and sensitivities about overt criticism of Beijing.

Bloomberg, a former New York mayor who ran for president in 2020, apologised on Thursday at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore, a business gathering whose speakers included Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and whose delegates included Chinese businessmen.

"Some may have been insulted or offended last night by parts of the speaker's remarks referencing certain countries and their duly elected leaders," Bloomberg said in remarks posted on Twitter.

Referring to Johnson, Bloomberg said: "Those were his thoughts and his thoughts alone, not cleared in advance by anyone or shared with me personally... To those of you who were upset and concerned by what the speaker said, you have my apologies."

A spokesman for Bloomberg LP, which includes Bloomberg News and where Michael Bloomberg is the CEO, declined to comment to Reuters.

Johnson, who stepped down as Britain's leader in September, had sharply criticised China's and Russia's political system and leaders in his Wednesday speech.

"Let's look at Russia and China, the two former communist tyrannies in which power has once again been concentrated in the hands of a single ruler, two monocultural states that have been traditionally hostile to immigration and that are becoming increasingly nationalist in their attitudes," Johnson said, according to his spokesman.

Johnson said Beijing and Moscow were "willing to show a candid disregard for the rule of international law and had over the past year "demonstrated the immense limitations of their political systems by the disastrous mistakes they have made".

China's foreign ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Johnson's spokesman said the former leader had been invited to speak by Bloomberg himself and that his criticism was aimed at the Chinese government, not the nation or its people.

"Mr Johnson is robust in his criticism of authoritarianism and autocracy - including in Russia and China - and will continue to be so," the spokesman said. "He will continue to make the case for freedom and democracy on the world stage."

Bloomberg did not specify whether his apology was aimed at Chinese or Russian people. But he sported a small Ukrainian flag badge on his suit, criticised President Vladimir Putin's "brutal invasion" of Russia's neighbour and announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would address the forum remotely.

There were no Russian government speakers listed on the forum's programme.

Britain's then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson, September 1, 2022
Britain's then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during his visit to EDF's Sizewell B Nuclear power station, in Sizewell, Britain September 1, 2022. Chris Radburn/Pool via Reuters