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U.S. Politics

Dismissing tensions, Biden expects to see Xi despite ‘dictators’ jab

(AFP)

US President Joe Biden voiced confidence Thursday that he would meet Xi Jinping soon, as he refused to back down after angering Beijing by likening the Chinese leader to “dictators.”

Biden rejected “this theory that the relationship with China is collapsing” and praised talks Monday in Beijing between Xi and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who sought to keep tensions between the two powers in check.

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“Secretary Blinken had a great trip to China. I expect to be meeting with President Xi sometime in the future — in the near term,” Biden told a news conference alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Implicitly doubling down on his earlier comments on Xi, Biden said he would not be “avoiding saying what I think (are) the facts” on China.

“It’s just not something I’m going to change very much,” he said. 

Biden, speaking two days after Blinken’s trip, said that Xi — who has cemented power like no Chinese leader in decades — was unaware of an alleged surveillance balloon that flew over the US mainland in February.

“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two box cars full of spy equipment is he didn’t know it was there,” Biden told a political reception at which reporters were present.

“I’m serious. That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened.”

The balloon caused a public uproar in the United States, leading Blinken to cancel his originally scheduled trip to Beijing, even though administration officials privately doubted the threat from the object.

China’s ambassador to Washington, Xie Feng, lodged a protest with the White House and State Department over Biden’s “disparaging” remarks about Xi, the Chinese embassy said.

Biden’s comments are “erroneous, absurd and irresponsible and form an open political provocation,” an embassy statement said, echoing condemnation from Beijing.

– Chances soon for summit –

Biden in his decades in politics has been known for his loose tongue but also for his belief in the power of personal diplomacy.

Biden says he spent more than 24 hours talking to Xi when they were both vice presidents, contributing to the cordial mood when they met for the first time as presidents in November on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Bali.

Xi and Biden are both set to be in New Delhi in September for the next G20 summit. Biden is also inviting Xi to San Francisco in November when the United States plays host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.

The Bali talks came after tensions had soared over then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s defiant visit to Taiwan, with Beijing responding through major military exercises around the self-ruling democracy which it claims.

Biden’s outspokenness was not shared by at least one fellow Western leader — New Zealand’s Prime Minister Chris Hipkins, who is visiting Beijing next week.

Asked Thursday if he concurred with Biden’s assessment of China’s leader, Hipkins said “no,” adding that “the form of government that China has is a matter for the Chinese people.”

The United States frequently criticizes China’s human rights record, although it insists it is not seeking regime change.

In a speech last year, Blinken said the United States needs to prove that democracy is more effective than  Beijing’s “party-led centralized system,” but added, “We do not seek to transform China’s political system.”

Shaun TANDON

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