United States President Joe Biden has defended calling Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator”, just days after their countries hailed modest progress in cooling tensions.
During a joint press conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, Biden said his blunt statements about China are “just not something I’m going to change very much”.
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“I expect to be meeting with President Xi sometime in the future, near-term. And I don’t think it’s had any real consequence,” he said.
The “dictator” comment reportedly came at a campaign fundraiser in California earlier in the week. At the event, Biden described the Chinese leader as being out of the loop during an incident involving a Chinese spy balloon drifting over the US.
“That’s a great embarrassment for dictators. When they didn’t know what happened,” Biden said at the fundraiser. “That wasn’t supposed to be going where it was. It was blown off course.”
The statement came a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken completed a trip to Beijing, becoming the highest-level official to visit the country since Biden took office in January 2021.
Both sides reported tentative success at lowering tensions during the visit, which was expected to lay the groundwork for a possible official meeting between Biden and Xi.
On Thursday, China’s embassy in Washington said it had issued a formal protest against Biden’s comments.
“With the latest irresponsible remarks about China’s political system and its top leader, people cannot help but question the sincerity of the US side,” the embassy said in a statement.
“The Chinese government and people do not accept any political provocation against China’s top leader and will resolutely respond,” it added.
Chinese Ambassador Xie Feng had previously told senior US officials on Wednesday that they “should take earnest actions to undo the negative impact” of what Biden said or “bear all the consequences”.
The ambassador’s message was unclear as to whether Beijing was seeking an apology from the Biden administration or what the consequences would be.
Biden administration officials on Wednesday also defended Biden’s remarks, saying the president has made a point of drawing distinctions between the world’s democracies and autocracies.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has said improving relations with China is important for maintaining global stability, also addressed Biden’s comments at a separate news conference on Thursday.
“With respect to the comments, I think President Biden and I both believe it’s critical to maintain communication … to clear up misperceptions, miscalculations. We need to work together where possible,” she said.
“But we have disagreements, and we are also forthright in recognising we do have disagreements,” she added.