China lashes back as Biden labels Xi a ‘dictator’

Published June 21, 2023
This combination of pictures shows US President Joe Biden (L) as he addresses the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate from the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, DC on June 17, 2022, and China’s President Xi Jinping (R) as he speaks after walking with members of the Chinese Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee to meet the media in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 23, 2022.  — AFP
This combination of pictures shows US President Joe Biden (L) as he addresses the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate from the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House, in Washington, DC on June 17, 2022, and China’s President Xi Jinping (R) as he speaks after walking with members of the Chinese Communist Party’s new Politburo Standing Committee to meet the media in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct 23, 2022. — AFP

China hit back on Wednesday after US President Joe Biden referred to President Xi Jinping as a “dictator”, saying the remarks were absurd and a provocation, in an unexpected spat immediately following efforts by both sides to lower tensions.

Biden’s comments came just a day after top US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing to stabilise bilateral relations that China says are at their lowest point since formal ties were established.

Attending a fundraiser in California, Biden said Xi was very embarrassed when a suspected Chinese spy balloon was blown off course over US airspace early this year, making a personal comment on the Chinese leader when Blinken said on Monday the “chapter” should be closed.

“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment in it was he didn’t know it was there,” Biden said.

“That’s a great embarrassment for dictators. When they didn’t know what happened. That wasn’t supposed to be going where it was. It was blown off course,” Biden added.

Xi became China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong after securing a precedent-breaking third term as president in March and head of the Communist Party in October.

Biden also said China “has real economic difficulties.”

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said Biden’s remarks were “extremely absurd” and “irresponsible”.

Expressing China’s strong dissatisfaction, foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Biden’s comments seriously violated facts, diplomatic protocol and China’s political dignity.

“They’re an open political provocation,” she told a news conference.

Asked how aware Xi had been about the balloon’s movements, Mao reiterated China’s previous explanation that the passage of the balloon through US airspace had been unintended and caused by circumstances beyond its control.

‘Big mouth’

“Biden’s big mouth is a loose cannon,” said Wu Xinbo, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

“Mutual trust is what China has been stressing, so Biden’s comments are very destructive and damaging,” Wu said, while adding that the remarks may not totally undo what Blinken had achieved on his China visit.

Blinken and Xi agreed in their meeting on Monday to stabilise the intense rivalry between Washington and Beijing so it did not veer into conflict.

While no breakthroughs were made during the first visit to China by a US secretary of state for five years, both sides did agree to continue diplomatic engagement with more visits by US officials in the coming weeks and months.

Biden said later on Tuesday that US climate envoy John Kerry may go to China soon.

A day earlier, on Monday, Biden said he thought relations between the two countries were on the right path, and he indicated that progress was made during Blinken’s trip.

Chiming in from Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Biden’s comments contradicted the efforts of his secretary of state to ease tensions with Beijing, describing the remarks as “incomprehensible”.

“These are very contradictory manifestations of US foreign policy, which speak of a large element of unpredictability,” Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.

“However, that’s their business,” Peskov said. “We’ve our own bad relations with the United States of America and our very good relations with the People’s Republic of China.”

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