It’s been a busy week for Joe Biden, between traveling to California for fundraisers hosted by key (and some would contend suspect) Democratic donors and his son pleading guilty to misdemeanor tax charges, agreeing to pre-trial diversion on a firearm charge, and resolving his ongoing child support dispute with the mother of his four-year-old daughter — but that’s just on the home front.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken just returned from his visit to China, where he met with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, and with President Xi Jinping. Following those talks, Blinken characterized his conversations with Chinese officials as “candid and constructive.” However, the talks failed to secure an agreement by the Chinese to resume military to military communications, which was billed as a top U.S. priority. For his part, Xi indicated he was pleased with the talks, noting that “the two sides have agreed to follow through the common understandings President Biden and I had reached in Bali,” adding that “I hope that through this visit, Mr. Secretary, you will make more positive contributions to stabilizing China-U.S. relations.”
On Tuesday, at another fundraiser in California, Biden spoke to the Chinese spy balloon incident, asserting, “That’s a great embarrassment for dictators. When they didn’t know what happened.” This follows prior comments by Biden characterizing the balloon’s February flight across the U.S. as unintentional.
What he told a reporter in response was astonishing. Namely, Biden claimed that the Chinese spy balloon that traversed much of the continental United States wasn’t intentional and that CCP leadership wasn’t even aware of what the balloon was doing.
REPORTER: Can Secretary Blinken ease tensions with China on this trip, do you think?
BIDEN: Sure, well look…(long pause)…China has…(long pause)…some legitimate difficulties unrelated, unrelated to the United States. And…I think, one of the things that that balloon caused was not so much that it got shot down, but I don’t think that the leadership knew where it was, and knew what was in it, and knew what was going on. I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional.
And so, uh, I’m hoping that over the next several months, I’ll be meeting with Xi again, and talking about legitimate differences we have, but also how those areas we can get along.
While the president appears focused on absolving the Chinese of malicious intent regarding the incident, his reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator” drew sharp criticism from China.
China has called comments by U.S. President Joe Biden describing Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a dictator “extremely absurd and irresponsible.” https://t.co/PsLo528aYR
— The Associated Press (@AP) June 21, 2023
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Biden’s comments 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 at a daily briefing.
“The U.S. remarks are extremely absurd and irresponsible,” Mao said.
This isn’t the first time Biden has raised eyebrows with his characterization of his foreign counterparts. In March of 2022, Biden referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as a dictator and a “war criminal,” which then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki later walked back, characterizing it as Biden’s personal opinion from his “heart” not a formal position.
Whether or not one agrees with the president’s assessment of Xi (or Putin) and whether or not those assessments “come from his heart” rather than representing a formal position, he does seem to have a knack for blurting out labels likely to fuel diplomatic tensions — something for which his predecessor was roundly criticized by Democrats during his tenure.