BEIJING, CHINA — China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday slammed comments by US President Joe Biden equating Chinese leader Xi Jinping with “dictators” as an “open political provocation”.
Speaking at a fundraiser in California on Tuesday, Biden said Xi had been angered over an incident in February when a Chinese balloon -– which Washington says was used for spying -– flew over the United States before being shot down by American military jets.
His comments come just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken concluded a visit to Beijing aimed at re-establishing lines of communication in order to avoid conflict between the two global powers.
“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 said.
“I’m serious. That was the great embarrassment for dictators when they didn’t know what happened.”
Beijing’s foreign ministry termed Biden’s comments as “ridiculous”.
“The relevant remarks by the US side are extremely ridiculous and irresponsible, they seriously violate basic facts, diplomatic protocol and China’s political dignity,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a Wednesday briefing.
“China is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to this,” she added.
The White House tried to ease tensions later on Wednesday, saying Blinken “made some progress” during his trip to China and that Washington still had “every expectation of building on that progress.”
“Diplomacy, including that undertaken by Secretary Blinken, is the responsible way to manage tensions,” a senior administration official said, adding “It should come as no surprise that the president speaks candidly about China and the differences that we have.”
‘Distortion of facts’
The multi-faceted rivalry between China and the United States turned into a full-blown diplomatic crisis with February’s balloon incident.
Beijing on Wednesday reiterated its protest against Washington’s decision to shoot it down.
“The United States should have dealt with it calmly, rationally and professionally, but its distortion of facts, abuse of force, and escalation of hype have fully exposed its hegemonic and bullying nature,” Mao said.
Russia also criticised Biden’s comments, with the Kremlin on Wednesday saying the comment reflected Washington’s “unpredictable” foreign policy.
“This is a very contradictory manifestation of US foreign policy, which points to a significant element of unpredictability,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
‘Going to take time’
Biden, who at 80 is running for re-election, on Tuesday told donors that “we’re in a situation now where (Xi) wants to have a relationship again.”
Blinken “did a good job” on his Beijing trip, but “it’s going to take time,” Biden added.
The US president also brought up another prickly point regarding China: a recent summit in which leaders of Australia, India, Japan and the United States — known as the Quad group — sought to boost peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific maritime region.
The four countries are “working hand in glove in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean,” Biden said.
“What he (Xi) was really upset about was that I insisted that we unite the… so-called Quad,” Biden said.
Tuesday was not the first time Biden has made significant, even provocative, statements at fund-raising receptions — usually small-scale events at which cameras and recordings are forbidden but where journalists may listen to and transcribe the president’s opening remarks.
At one such event last October Biden spoke of the threat of nuclear “Armageddon” from Russia.