The insult against China’s leader was merely a matter of the US president speaking candidly, America’s top diplomat has claimed
US President Joe Biden’s controversial comment last week referring to Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “dictator” came right at the time Washington was making a diplomatic push to mend ties with Beijing, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken has claimed the affront won’t hinder his reconciliation efforts.
At issue was Biden’s claim at a political fundraiser that Xi hadn’t known about an alleged spy balloon that was shot down after straying over US airspace in February. “That’s a great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened,” the US president said.
The comment came just one day after Blinken concluded a long-awaited visit to Beijing, where he landed a rare meeting with Xi to help ease tensions between the countries.
Asked in a CBS News interview on Sunday whether Biden’s comment would undo the progress made on his visit to China, Blinken suggested that the insult should not have come as a surprise in Beijing. “One of the things that I said to Chinese counterparts during this trip was that we are going to continue to do things and say things that you don’t like, just as you’re no doubt going to continue to do and say things that we don’t like,” he said.
The top US diplomat claimed, too, that the “dictator” comment was just the sort of candor that people expect from Biden.
The president always speaks candidly. He speaks directly, he speaks clearly, and he speaks for all of us.”
The talks with Chinese leaders focused on keeping relations peaceful even when the two sides are expressing their differences, Blinken said. “We continue to work through that, to build our lines of communication, because we have a responsibility. And we especially have a responsibility to make sure that the competition we’re in doesn’t veer into conflict.”
Biden addressed the issue on Thursday, when asked about his Xi comment during a press conference. He dismissed concerns that the “dictator” slight could damage the already strained Sino-US relations. “I expect to be meeting with President Xi sometime in the future, in the near term, and I don’t think it’s had any real consequence,” he said.
China’s embassy in Washington issued a formal complaint earlier on Thursday, saying, “The Chinese government and people do not accept any political provocation against China’s top leader and will resolutely respond.” The Chinese government also called in US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns to deliver an official reprimand.
Beijing cut off military and climate ties with Washington last summer following a controversial visit to Taiwan by then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Blinken had been scheduled to visit China earlier this year, but the trip was postponed amid tensions over the balloon incident.