Biden calls Chinese President Xi a ‘dictator’

President Joe Biden called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator” while speaking at a fundraising campaign in California on Tuesday.

The remark was shared as Biden said Xi was embarrassed by the spy balloon incident which caused intense diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Washington.

The comments came a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing in a bid to ease tensions between the United States and China, the world’s two largest economies. Blinken told NBC News after his visit that the spy balloon chapter “should be closed.”

Biden, however, revisited the topic before a room of more than 125 attendees, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, who also spoke at the fundraiser.

“The reason Xi Jinping was very upset when I shot down this balloon with two train cars full of spy equipment is that he didn’t know it was there,” Biden said.

“It’s a great embarrassment for dictators,” he added, “when they didn’t know what happened.”

The Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Biden said the Chinese ball was deflected off course without Xi’s knowledge, adding “when it was shot he (Xi) was very embarrassed and he denied he was even there.” He did not back down from comments later Tuesday at a second fundraiser.

Biden was referring to a Chinese spy balloon that floated across the United States in February. The balloon, which China says was an unmanned civilian airship conducting weather research, was shot down by the Air Force off the coast of South Carolina after flying over sensitive US military installations. The incident became a point of intense diplomatic conflict between Beijing and Washington.

Although Blinken’s visit was considered relatively successful – Biden said at the fundraiser that his secretary of state had done “a good job” – China and the United States have not restored several channels communications lines that were cut after former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, a self-governing island off the coast of China that Beijing claims as its own territory. There was no breakthrough at the meeting beyond an agreement that both sides needed to stabilize the relationship.

The two countries have had tense military contacts in recent weeks in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea, which some have found particularly concerning. China said it was defending its national sovereignty in the two most recent cases. The United States called Beijing’s actions dangerous and stressed that the US military was operating in international airspace and waters.

Blinken’s visit was the first by a secretary of state since 2018. He had postponed a trip planned for February after the Chinese spy balloon debacle. Biden said last month that his plan with Xi to maintain an ongoing dialogue had been derailed by “this silly balloon.”

At Tuesday night’s first fundraiser, Biden said Xi had become more concerned with the Quad strategic security group, which is made up of the United States, Australia, Japan and India. The group has spoken openly about acting as a buffer for Chinese interests, but Biden said he assured Xi that China need not worry.

Biden also told the crowd that they shouldn’t be worried about recent friction between Beijing and Washington.

“Don’t worry about China. I mean worry about China, but don’t worry about China,” he said as the crowd laughed.

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