I should rephrase. Is Biden seriously going to try to appoint the head of Disney to be our new ambassador to China?
The GOP is a party of China hawks now, after all. It probably would have been a party of China hawks post-coronavirus even without Trump’s influence, but the dual realities of MAGA and COVID guarantee that the nomination of some Beijing bootlicker from America’s entertainment industry to be ambassador would be received by the Senate … coolly, let us say.
The idea of nominating Iger is so glaringly terrible that I suspect it’s coming from his own camp, not Team Joe. “The Disney executive chairman, who once toyed with the idea of a 2020 presidential run, is at the top of President-elect Joe Biden’s wish list for a key ambassador post, namely China or the U.K.,” sources recently told … The Hollywood Reporter, a newspaper not known for major political scoops. Iger and his cronies are probably spreading this around in the media hoping that the idea will gain some buzz in Democratic circles and steer Biden towards considering it. That would explain why THR, rather than Politico, is hearing whispers about it first. “Robert Iger has told people close to the incoming Biden administration that he would be interested in serving as U.S. ambassador to China, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Wall Street Journal noted today. I’m sure he has. And I bet he told those same people to make sure that the WSJ knows about it too.
What’s so stupid about this rumor is that Biden can’t afford to be seen as weak on China, and not just because of Republican opinion. The two parties aren’t that far apart in their disdain for ChiCom totalitarianism, after all:
That’s from a poll taken last March, as COVID descended on the United States, that found 66 percent of Americans view China unfavorably. Another poll found Chinese unfavorability at 73 percent in the U.S., in line with dimming views of China across the western world. To put even more pressure on the incoming adminsitration, Trump’s trade war with Beijing and persistent rhetorical hawkishness has teed up the GOP to accuse Biden of being a weak-kneed appeaser by comparison. Sleepy Joe will need to pick his spots in signaling toughness, and one obvious way to do that is not to nominate as ambassador some gladhanding fatcat from Hollywood USA who’s used to kissing Chinese ass to help his bottom line.
Even if Biden were willing to overlook all that and consider Iger as well suited to lead a tin-eared effort at rapprochement, the growing public attention to China’s atrocities in Xinjiang and suppression of Hong Kong would make it politically painful for him. Democrats regard themselves as the party of human rights; Obama joined a war in Libya to oust Qaddafi on the theory that western powers have a responsibility to protect minorities threatened with genocide. Sending Iger to Beijing as the face of American resolve while China tightens the vise on Xinjiang’s Uighurs would be absurd in that context. A noteworthy passage in the Journal: “Mr. Iger’s history in China dates back to the 1990s, when he was introduced to high-ranking officials by his then-boss, CEO Michael Eisner, on a trip during which the company apologized for releasing a movie sympathetic to the Dalai Lama, Martin Scorsese’s ‘Kundun.'” His very first exposure to China, in other words, came in the course of apologizing to the regime for criticizing its subjugation of others.
For a fuller litany of Iger’s China-related sins, I highly recommend this Twitter thread from WaPo contributor Isaac Stone Fish. Iger’s been playing ball with the CCP literally for decades, cooperating with them on the construction of Disney Shanghai and of course the distribution and production of various movies. The most disgraceful was “Mulan,” which Fish wrote about earlier this year:
Disney filmed “Mulan” in regions across China (among other locations). In the credits, Disney offers a special thanks to more than a dozen Chinese institutions that helped with the film. These include four Chinese Communist Party propaganda departments in the region of Xinjiang as well as the Public Security Bureau of the city of Turpan in the same region — organizations that are facilitating crimes against humanity. It’s sufficiently astonishing that it bears repeating: Disney has thanked four propaganda departments and a public security bureau in Xinjiang, a region in northwest China that is the site of one of the world’s worst human rights abuses happening today.
It’d be like filming in and around the Warsaw ghetto in 1944 and then thanking Goebbels’s agency for their cooperation. To make matters worse, Tiana Lowe reminds me that Iger was iffy about doing business in Georgia after that state passed a tough new anti-abortion law last year. A guy who’d tsk-tsk about a pro-life measure in the U.S. while looking the other way at forced sterilization of undesirables by China’s leaders is a moral cretin who has no business representing the United States in anything.
Beyond all that, whether he could be trusted to confront the Chinese forthrightly knowing how Disney might be punished for it, even after he divested, is doubtful. And as a purely symbolic matter, appointing a businessman of any stripe would be tone-deaf given the current posture of the U.S.-China relationship:
It’s not just that Iger is particularly problematic. Appointing a businessman also sends the message that business, not politics, dominates the relationship. The CCP, an intensely political organization, like to pretend the relationship is apolitical. It’s not.
— Isaac Stone Fish (@isaacstonefish) December 18, 2020
“The least Biden could do is refrain from installing as our representative to China a man who has made his millions bowing and scraping to Xi at the behest of shareholders looking to squeeze every last yuan out of Chinese movie screens,” writes Sonny Bunch. The only reason Biden has to even consider doing so is that Iger and his movie buddies dropped big bucks on his campaign last year, but that’s a reason to consider giving him a cushy job like ambassador to the UK or France, not a delicate slot with a superpower with which we’re increasingly at odds. I think the whole idea is hype being pushed by Iger’s circle, as I said up top. We’ll see if Biden proves me wrong.