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Biden ‘dictator’ comment sparks Beijing backlash

China has called U.S. President Joe Biden’s use of the word “dictator” to describe Chinese leader Xi Jinping “extremely absurd and irresponsible.” 

The latest war of words comes just two days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a diplomatic mission that sought to ease tensions between the two superpowers.

Diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. are broadly agreed to have reached their lowest point since they formally recognized each other nearly five decades ago.

‘Totally against facts’

On Wednesday Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing that Biden’s remarks at a fundraiser in California “go totally against facts and seriously violate diplomatic protocol, and severely infringe on China’s political dignity.”

“It is a blatant political provocation. China expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition,” Mao said.

“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,” Biden told a fundraiser Tuesday in support of his bid for a second presidential term at the 2024 elections.

A fighter jet flies near the remnants of a suspected Chinese spy balloon after it was struck by a missile over the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of South Carolina near Myrtle Beach, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. Credit: Chad Fish via AP

Biden uttered similar words ahead of Blinken’s visit to Beijing in what was interpreted at the time as a peace offering to pave the ground for a meeting between Xi and Blinken, which took place on Monday.

On this occasion in Kentfield, California, Biden apparently decided to elaborate.

“That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened. That wasn’t supposed to be going where it was,” he added.

Biden also said that China “has real economic difficulties,” a comment that is also sure to aggravate China’s leadership, which is in general very bad-news averse.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao once again defended the Chinese position that the balloon, which was shot down over U.S. coastal waters in February this year, was for meteorological research and had been blown off-course.

“The U.S. should have handled it in a calm and professional manner,” she said. ”“However, the U.S. distorted facts and used forces to hype up the incident, fully revealing its nature of bullying and hegemony.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, center, exits a vehicle to attend a meeting with China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, not in photo, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, Monday, June 19, 2023. Credit: Leah Millis/Pool Photo via AP

Blinken’s trip to Beijing yielded no major breakthroughs, but Xi appeared to agree that it was the right time to stabilize rivalry between China and the U.S. that has threatened to veer into outright conflict on at least two occasions this year.

They also agreed to further diplomatic engagement and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang verbally agreed to visit the U.S. some time later this year at Blinken’s invitation.

Biden, prior to calling Xi a dictator, said he thought relations between the two countries were on the right path, suggesting that Blinken’s trip had resulted in progress.

“We’re in a situation now where he wants to have a relationship again,” Biden said of Xi separately on Tuesday. “Antony Blinken just went over there … did a good job and it’s going to take time.”

Edited by Mike Firn.