Biden’s ‘Dictator’ Remark about Xi Surprises U.S. Officials, Yet Progress in China Relations Expected
Senior U.S. officials express surprise as President Joe Biden refers to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator,” just a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing yielded positive developments in strained bilateral relations. U.S. officials privately clarify that Biden’s characterization does not indicate a new talking point or policy shift. They remain optimistic that the controversy will not hinder the progress made during Blinken’s trip.
While Biden’s candid remarks on China and their differences are no surprise, one senior administration official emphasizes the president’s belief in diplomacy as the responsible approach to managing tensions. Acknowledging Blinken’s productive journey, they express expectations of building upon progress.
During a campaign fundraiser in California, Biden recounts Xi’s reaction when a U.S. military action inadvertently shot down a Chinese spy balloon. China angrily responds to Biden’s comments, describing them as “extremely absurd” and “irresponsible.”
Although Blinken’s meeting with Xi showed progress in restoring diplomatic and economic communications, efforts to re-establish dialogue between both nations’ military leaders faced resistance. However, a senior administration official indicates that Blinken is accustomed to the president’s remarks causing a stir and highlights the understanding between the Chinese and Blinken during their extensive talks regarding areas of disagreement and the need for collaboration.
Various interpretations emerge among officials regarding Biden’s remark. While one downplays it as a comment about dictators in general, another emphasizes that the president was specifically labeling Xi as a dictator.
The fundraiser, where Biden remarked, did not permit news cameras or audio recordings, and only a few reporters were allowed to take notes. The White House released a transcript of the president’s remarks, as is customary for all campaign fundraisers.
Biden’s propensity for speaking more freely in closed-door settings with affluent Democratic donors is noted, often differing from his public statements. However, the president’s off-the-cuff remarks continue to be clarified by his aides to align with the administration’s official policy.
Although Republicans in Congress often criticize Biden’s approach to China, his comments did not ignite significant backlash from them. Some Republican lawmakers even encouraged Biden to stand by his remarks, calling for a tougher stance on China.
While administration officials hope the controversy subsides swiftly without derailing planned visits from the U.S. treasury and commerce secretaries, experts suggest that Xi himself may not have been surprised by Biden’s comments, given their prior knowledge of the president’s sentiments.
As the administration navigates delicate diplomatic concerns and manages Biden’s candid nature, they aim to strike a balance while ensuring the controversy does not overshadow broader objectives in U.S.-China relations.