June 23, 2023: On Tuesday, U.S. President Joe Biden called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a dictator, drawing a harsh reaction from China and creating a potential diplomatic setback with fragile ties between the two countries.
Biden remarked at a campaign fundraiser in California, just after Secretary of State Antony Blinken covered up his first official visit to Beijing.
“Xi Jinping got very upset when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy supplies because he didn’t know it was there,” Biden talked about 125 attendees at a fundraiser in Kentfield, California.
“That was the great embarrassment for dictators when they didn’t know what happened. That wasn’t thought to be going where it was,” he added.
The situation underscores the tricky balance Biden must strike in managing ties with an assertive global rival while appealing to voters. Blinken’s trip aimed to mend relations between the two global powers that have hit rock bottom after the U.S. in February shot down what it described as a surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina.
According to a translation, Biden’s comments regarding President Xi were “ridiculously absurd and irresponsible,” said Mao Ning, a spokesperson at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a news conference in Beijing on Wednesday.
“It is a grave disregard for basic facts, a serious breach of diplomatic protocol, a serious breach of China’s political dignity, and amounted to open political provocation,” she added. “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition.”
Blinken postponed the Beijing trip, initially scheduled for February after the stray balloon happened. His visit over the weekend marked a resumption of high-level U.S.-China government meetings after tense four-plus months.
While his mission successfully got the two global powers to speak again, Blinken needed help to revive military-to-military talks with China.