While United States President Joe Biden's statement that he "still sees Chinese President Xi Jinping as a dictator" following their face-to-face meeting on Thursday stirred controversy, the reaction of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who attempted to ease tensions in relations, did not go unnoticed.
During a period of escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, Chinese leader Jinping made a crucial visit to the U.S. the previous day and met with Biden. Reportedly, the two countries agreed to re-establish military dialogue, which had been interrupted after the visit of Nancy Pelosi, then speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, to Taiwan in 2022.
However, the positive statements from both sides after the meeting were overshadowed by Biden's verbal misstep. Answering journalists' questions at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco on Thursday, the U.S. president remarked that he "still sees Xi as a dictator."
"I mean, he's a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that is based on a form of government different than ours," Biden said.
Nevertheless, he claimed progress had been made in their talks with Xi.
The expression on Blinken's face at the moment when the U.S. president used the word "dictator" was captured on cameras. Blinken initially waited nervously for the answer and reacted to the word "dictator" with a grimace. The U.S. press interpreted Blinken's reaction as "an indication that the administration's tolerance for Biden's unwarranted goofs has decreased."
Blinken later emphasized that the U.S.-China relationship is the most important relationship between the two countries globally, underscoring the need for responsible action.
China also reacted to Biden's "dictator" statement and with this, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Mao Ning emphasized this situation at the daily press conference held in Beijing.
"It should be noted here that there will always be people with bad intentions who try to undermine China-U.S. relations, but they will not succeed," Mao said.
Biden had suggested that Xi's reaction to the downing of the Chinese "spy balloon" that entered U.S. airspace in February was due to "not knowing the balloon was there."
"I'm serious. It's a great embarrassment for dictators when they don't understand what's going on," Biden said.
Conversely, China described Biden's "dictator" insinuation against Xi as "absurd and irresponsible."