US president sought to play down the impact of his comments, saying ‘I don’t think it’s had any real consequence’
The Chinese government has reportedly reprimanded the US ambassador to China over comments made by President Joe Biden in which he referred to President Xi Jinping as a “dictator”.
Nicholas Burns received the diplomatic note hours after Biden made comments about Xi at a fundraiser in California, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing three unnamed US officials.
At the fundraiser on Tuesday, Biden said that Xi was unaware of the alleged Chinese spy balloon that was shot down in US airspace in February, adding: “That’s a great embarrassment for dictators. When they didn’t know what happened.”
On Wednesday China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said that Biden’s “extremely absurd” comments “seriously violated China’s political dignity” and amounted to “political provocation”.
But the US officials who leaked the news of Beijing’s rebuke of Burns noted that Chinese state media did not publicise the diplomatic note, known as a démarche, seemingly to preserve the goodwill created by US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s visit to China.
Biden’s comments came one day after Blinken met Xi in a long-awaited encounter that was aimed at halting the downwards spiral in relations between the US and China. Blinken’s original visit had been planned for February but was cancelled in the wake of the spy balloon incident.
On Thursday Biden sought to play down the impact of his comments. “I don’t think it’s had any real consequence,” he told reporters. “The idea of my choosing and avoiding saying what I think is the facts with regard to the relationship with … China is just not something I am going to change very much.”
Biden said that he still expected to meet Xi in the near future and praised Blinken’s visit to Beijing.
Although Chinese state media has largely ignored the comments, China’s diplomats have made clear that they are unhappy. On Wednesday, Xie Feng, China’s ambassador to the US, “made serious representations and strong protests” to senior officials at the White House, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy.
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