Bob Iger, chairman of the Walt Disney Co., has expressed interest in becoming ambassador to China under Joe Biden, reportedly making overtures to people in the president-elect’s team about the plum diplomatic post.
But the possible appointment is already drawing criticism as a weak choice given Disney’s history of appeasement to China’s Communist dictatorship.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Bob Iger has reached out to Biden’s transition team to communicate his interest in the ambassadorship, according to anonymous sources “familiar with the matter.” The newspaper noted that Biden gave $500,000 to the Biden Victory Fund as well as a combined $85,100 towards efforts to elect Democrats in Congress.
Former Dreamworks and Quibi boss Jeffrey Katzenberg also put in a good word for Iger, telling the Biden transition team that he would make a good ambassador to China, according to the Journal.
Presidents have traditionally rewarded big-ticket donors with ambassadorships. On top of that, Iger’s long-running business relationship with Chinese president Xi Jinping could serve as a potential bonus to seal the deal.
But Bob Iger also presents major drawbacks in light of Disney’s past failure to stand up to China’s Communist rulers.
Iger came under fire last year for refusing to condemn China’s crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Under his leadership, Disney forbade ESPN journalists from addressing any discussion of the relationship between China and Hong Kong. The decision came after the controversy involving Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who tweeted support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
Disney has invested heavily in China, with theme parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong. The studio also relies on the Chinese box office to help its blockbuster movies turn a profit. As a result, Iger has developed close ties to China’s Communist Party leaders.
The Journal noted that Iger first met Xi during a trip to China during which Disney apologized for releasing the 1997 Martin Scorsese movie Kundun, a biopic of the Dalai Lama. The movie angered Chinese leaders for its negative depiction of Chairman Mao Tse-tung and for scenes showing Chinese troops slaughtering Tibetans.
Iger’s tenure as Disney chairman is set to expire next year. The Hollywood executive was rumored to be mulling a presidential run during the last election cycle but he ultimately opted to stay out of the race.