WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s comments about Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator” and China as a country with “real economic problems” drew swift condemnation from China on Wednesday, opening a fresh rift after the two countries agreed to temporary measures. Need to confirm the relationship.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning condemned Biden’s unusually pointed comments as “very absurd and irresponsible.”
The spat of words comes after Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken visited Beijing On Monday, it sought to break the ice in relations that have hit a historic low. While both sides saw the talks as constructive, they did not produce significant progress beyond an agreement to return to a broader agenda of cooperation and competition.
China’s swift response to Biden, who is known for unscripted remarks outside of his administration’s policies, raises questions about whether his remarks will undo the limited progress made in Blingen’s carefully crafted trip or whether both sides will move forward.
Biden’s characterization of China comes as the campaign for next year’s presidential election has already begun, with Republicans accusing him of being weak on China.
Biden was also preparing to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi A lavish state visit to Washington on Wednesday evening, where a central theme will be a shared wariness of China.
At a fundraiser in California on Tuesday night, Biden referred to what the U.S. said was a Chinese spy balloon that flew over two weeks in January and February. The balloon’s surprise appearance in American skies shook relationships and changed the American people.
Speaking to wealthy donors at an event for his 2024 re-election campaign, Biden portrayed Xi as out of touch and embarrassed, which ended with the Air Force shooting down a balloon over the East Coast.
“The reason Xi Jinping was so upset when I shot down that balloon with two boxcars full of spy equipment is because he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told the crowd.
“No, I’m serious,” he added. “It was a great embarrassment to the dictators who did not know what had happened.”
Biden also downplayed trade competition with China, which is the world’s second-largest economy after the United States but is struggling to emerge from Covid-era fiscal problems.
“I promise not to worry about China. Worry about China, but don’t worry about China,” Biden said. “I mean really. China has real economic problems.
Biden’s comments came hours after he called on both countries to push back on the balloon incident, calling it “a chapter that needs to be closed” in an interview with MSNBC.
In Beijing on Wednesday, Mao told reporters that Biden’s comments “are completely contrary to the facts and seriously violate diplomatic ethics, and seriously violate China’s political dignity.”
“This is a blatant political provocation,” Mao said.
Mao reiterated China’s version of the balloon episode, saying the balloon was for meteorological research and was accidentally diverted.
Administration officials signaled Wednesday that Biden did not intend to retract his comments.
Biden and Blinken “will continue to manage this relationship responsibly and maintain an open line of communication with the PRC,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.
“But, of course, that doesn’t mean we won’t be open and honest about our differences,” Patel said, including differences in the global competition between democracies and autocracies.
US-China tensions have risen over the years as competition over trade and global influence has developed. Repeated flare-ups have helped heighten tensions, including the balloon, US tariffs, economic sanctions on China and self-ruled Taiwan.
The U.S. is pressing China to embrace direct communication between Biden, Xi and other senior U.S. and Chinese military and civilian leaders as a channel to defuse tensions and prevent incidents from escalating into open hostilities.
Despite the administration’s diplomatic efforts to smooth ties, analysts point to Republican political pressure, and Biden appears to be going off-script to continue criticizing Xi.
Bonnie Glaser, Asia director of America’s George Marshall Fund, pointed Wednesday to the status quo of Biden’s State of the Union address in February, when after the balloon flight, Republican lawmakers in the audience booed him about China and other issues. Waving a finger in the air, Biden shouted, “Name me the world leader who will switch places with Xi Jinping! I have a name! Name me one! “
As for Biden, “He’s getting a lot of criticism from the right. He doesn’t want to see China soft. He sees Xi Jinping as a dictator,” Glaser said.
“He’s not very good … at distinguishing between what to say in public and what to say in private,” Glazer said. “And the relationship pays a price for that. There’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Xi may have been upset by claims he was not fully informed about the balloon incident, said Steve Chang, director of the China Institute at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and a longtime observer of Chinese politics.
“My sense is that Xi does not want to overdo it and put the relationship back on ice,” Chang said in an email.
Initial Republican response to Biden’s comments was one of approval. “It’s a perfect description of their system of government,” said Sen., the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Marco Rubio said.
While Xi presides over a country formally named the People’s Republic of China, he is head of state, head of the military and head of the ruling Communist Party, with no limits on his terms of office that pose no challenge to its authority.
In California, Biden told donors that Xi “wants to re-engage.”
Blinken “went in there … did a good job, it just takes time,” he said.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.