Two steps forward, two steps back, as the adage goes.
Biden told reporters his honest assessment of his negotiating partner shortly after a “productive” meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping in San Francisco on Wednesday, as described by multiple news outlets, including this one from Time.
“After today, would you still refer to President Xi as a dictator?” a CNN reporter asked. According to Time, the reporter was referring to a term Biden had used previously that had upset Chinese leaders.
“Well, look, he is,” Biden confirmed. “I mean he’s a dictator in the sense that here’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country based on a form of government totally different than ours.”
Biden may have realized he had just placed his foot in his mouth when he turned his back on reporters and cut off inquiries at that moment.
"After today, would you still refer to President Xi as a dictator?" asks a reporter.
"Look, he is. He's a dictator in the sense that he's a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that's based on a form of government totally different than ours," says Pres. Biden. pic.twitter.com/JjZeGBNcU2
— Last Call (@LastCallCNBC) November 16, 2023
As reported by Politico, Biden had just completed enumerating several agreements that he and Xi had reached an understanding upon. These agreements encompassed the resumption of communication channels between senior military officials of both nations and measures intended to impede the manufacturing of fentanyl using Chinese-made chemicals.
Additionally, they had reached a consensus to engage in additional dialogues regarding artificial intelligence.
“Our meetings have always been candid and straightforward. We haven’t always agreed, but they’ve always been straightforward,” Biden said. “And today built on several months of groundwork we’ve laid over the past several months of high-level diplomacy between our teams.”
Then, Biden called Xi a dictator. Again.
“The last time Biden called Xi a dictator, at a June fundraiser in Northern California, Chinese officials called the remarks absurd and a provocation,” Politico wrote.
Without specifically mentioning the president of the United States, the Chinese foreign ministry condemned the remarks and stated that it “strongly opposes” them.
“This statement is extremely wrong and irresponsible political manipulation,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told reporters Thursday at a briefing, according to Reuters.
“It should be pointed out that there will always be some people with ulterior motives who attempt to incite and damage U.S.-China relations, they are doomed to fail,” she added, although it was difficult to imagine whom she might have meant, given that it was Biden himself who both praised the progress of his talks with Xi and then called him a dictator. (Reuters noted that she refused to elaborate when asked.)
Reuters also noted that Xi was “elected” to a third term as president in March by a unanimous vote by all 3,000 members of what ti called “China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress.”
Additionally, it said that Xi was “the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong” because, during his first two terms in office, he effectively consolidated military power and silenced the majority of media criticism of the government.
In June, Biden referred to Xi as a dictator, a remark that Chinese leaders reportedly disregarded as “absurd and provocation.” However, this did not impede subsequent diplomatic discussions that culminated in this week’s summit in San Francisco.