America’s most powerful banker has had his fair share of controversial opinions, but rarely has he walked back something as quickly as he did after he joked about the world’s second-most powerful country.
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase and a defender of capitalism, issued two statements on Wednesday apologizing for his quip on the longevity of the Communist Party of China.
“The Communist Party is celebrating its 100th year. So is JPMorgan. I’d make you a bet we last longer,” he reportedly said at a panel discussion at Boston College on Tuesday, recalling a “joke” he told during his recent trip to Hong Kong.
The fun didn’t last, however. Less than a day after he made the comment, he said he regretted saying it and that he was only trying to emphasize the strength of his bank.
In a second statement that followed his first apology, Dimon said that “it’s never right to joke about or denigrate any group of people,” the Wall Street Journal reported. The bank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The about-face came apparently without public pressure from the Chinese authorities, who are known to complain about “hurt feelings” to express official displeasure.
But with almost $20 billion in exposure to China, JPMorgan was quick to move into damage control, a glimpse into how multinational corporations have to tread on eggshells when talking about China, given its growing economic sway.
Dimon cracked the joke after enjoying an exemption from quarantine during his trip to Hong Kong earlier this month, a glaring example of the bank executive’s privileges in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
In Hong Kong, where tight travel restrictions remain to curb the spread of COVID-19, visitors from overseas are required to quarantine for up to 21 days. Dimon received special treatment because his firm is “a very huge bank” with a big presence in Hong Kong, and the risk of his brief trip was manageable, the city’s leader said.
Dimon is known to be one of the most candid executives on Wall Street. Over the years, he has called bitcoin “worthless” and its buyers “stupid,” and claimed that he could defeat former U.S. president Donald Trump in an election because he’s “as tough as he is” but smarter. (He later said he regretted calling bitcoin a “fraud.”)
But Zhao Lijian, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson and one of the country’s “wolf warrior” diplomats—a cadre of officials known for lashing out against Beijing’s critics—appeared unperturbed, if not slightly sarcastic, when asked about his stance at a press conference on Wednesday.
“Isn’t Bloomberg a serious media outlet?” Zhao replied when a reporter for Bloomberg, which first reported Dimon’s joke, asked for his comment on the issue. “Why the publicity stunt with some grandstanding remarks?”
While JPMorgan Chase was formed in 2000 as the product of a merger between two of the U.S.’ biggest banks, the company’s predecessors go back to 1799, merely years after the American Revolution and more than a century before the birth of modern China.
The 100th anniversary Dimon quipped about referred to the 100th year after JPMorgan began doing business in China, in 1921—the same year that the Chinese Communist Party was founded. Having ruled China since 1949, the monopolistic group holds the record for the longest continuous rule by any political party.
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