China blasts Biden’s Xi “dictators” remark as “political provocation”

Full interview: Antony Blinken

Beijing — China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday slammed comments by President Biden equating Chinese leader Xi Jinping with “dictators” as an “open political provocation.”

Speaking at a Tuesday fundraiser in California, Mr. Biden said Xi had been angered over an incident in February when a Chinese balloon — which Washington says was used for spying — flew over the United States before being shot down by American military jets.

President Joe Biden walks from Marine One at the Crissy Field Landing Zone in San Francisco, June 20, 2023, as he returns from a campaign reception in Kentfield, California.
AP/Susan Walsh

His comments come just days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a visit to Beijing aimed at re-establishing lines of communication in order to avoid conflict between the two global powers.

“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 is he didn’t know it was there,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m serious. That’s what’s the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened.”

Beijing’s foreign ministry called Mr. Biden’s comments “ridiculous.”

“The relevant remarks by the U.S. side are extremely ridiculous and irresponsible, they seriously violate basic facts, diplomatic protocol and China’s political dignity,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a Wednesday briefing. “China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to this.”

In a response on Wednesday, a senior Biden administration official said “it should come as no suprise” that Mr. Biden spoke “candidly about China and the differences that we have—we are certainly not alone in that.” The official noted that Blinken had a “good trip and made some progress” and said the White House hs “every expectation of building on that progress.” 

The background, and Russia’s take

The multi-faceted rivalry between China and the United States turned into a full-blown diplomatic crisis with February’s balloon incident.

Beijing on Wednesday reiterated its protest against Washington’s decision to shoot it down.

“The United States should have dealt with it calmly, rationally and professionally, but its distortion of facts, abuse of force, and escalation of hype have fully exposed its hegemonic and bullying nature,” Mao said.

Russia also criticized Mr. Biden’s comments, with the Kremlin on Wednesday saying the comment reflected Washington’s “unpredictable” foreign policy.

“This is a very contradictory manifestation of U.S. foreign policy, which points to a significant element of unpredictability,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Russia and China have voiced stronger and stronger solidarity with each other since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, with Russia’s top diplomat effusing on a visit to Beijing just a month after the invasion began that together, the two nations would push for a new “multipolar, just, democratic world order.”

Biden and U.S.-China diplomacy

Mr. Biden, who at 80 is running for re-election next year, told donors on Tuesday that “we’re in a situation now where (Xi) wants to have a relationship again.”

Blinken “did a good job” on his Beijing trip, but “it’s going to take time,” the president added.

Mr. Biden also brought up another prickly point regarding China: a recent summit in which leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — known as the Quad group — sought to boost peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific maritime region.

The four countries are “working hand in glove in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean,” Mr. Biden said, adding that what Xi “was really upset about was that I insisted that we unite the… so-called Quad.” 

Tuesday was not the first time Mr. Biden has made significant, even provocative statements at fund-raising receptions — usually small-scale events at which cameras and recordings are forbidden but where journalists may listen to and transcribe the president’s opening remarks.

At one such event last October, Mr. Biden spoke of the threat of nuclear “Armageddon” from Russia.

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