US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he still believes Chinese President Xi Jinping is a dictator, even as the two leaders made progress in their relationship during a meeting outside San Francisco.
“Well, look, he’s a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours,” Biden told CNN’s MJ Lee. “Anyway, we made progress.”
The remark is likely to upset Beijing, which responded furiously over the summer when the president made a similar comment.
Biden compared his Chinese counterpart to “dictators” during an off-camera campaign reception in California in June, hitting Xi for being caught by surprise after the US had shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had veered off course over the United States.
“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two boxcars full of spy equipment in it is he didn’t know it was there.
“No, I’m serious. That’s what’s a great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened,” Biden said at the time.
The response from Beijing in June was swift and angry.
“The remarks seriously contradict basic facts, seriously violate diplomatic etiquette, and seriously infringe on China’s political dignity,” the spokesperson for the foreign ministry said.
Wednesday’s comment could threaten to derail the positive energy coming out of the meeting, which Biden described earlier in the news conference as “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.”
Biden cultivated a deep relationship with Xi during their time as vice presidents and still appear to have a warm personal relationship, even as US-China relations have since deteriorated. He even wished the Chinese leader’s wife a happy birthday during their talks, a senior US official told CNN.
“I know the man, I know his modus operandi, looked into his eyes – we have disagreements. He has a different view than I have on a lot of things, but he’s been straight. I don’t mean that good, better, indifferent, just straight,” he said.
For his part, Xi called on the United States to “not scheme to suppress or contain China” during Wednesday’s extensive talks, Chinese state media reported.
“China has no plans to surpass or unseat the United States, and the United States should not scheme to suppress or contain China,” Xi said, according to a readout released by China’s state news agency Xinhua.
“Both sides should understand each other’s principles and bottom lines, not make or stir up trouble or cross boundaries, (but instead) communicate more, have more dialogue and more discussions, and handle differences and accidents calmly,” Xi said.
The two leaders “emphasized the need for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, maintaining communication and conflict prevention” during the meeting, according to Xinhua.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.