President Joe Biden’s recent remarks about Chinese leader Xi Jinping and China’s economic difficulties have sparked a swift condemnation from China, creating a new rift in their relationship shortly after both countries had agreed on tentative steps to stabilize their ties.
The Foreign Ministry spokesperson in Beijing, Mao Ning, criticized Biden’s comments as “extremely absurd and irresponsible.” The clash of words followed Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing, aimed at improving a relationship that had reached a historical low point. Although the talks were considered productive by both sides, they did not result in any significant breakthroughs, except for an agreement to resume a broad agenda for cooperation and competition.
China’s swift response to Biden’s remarks, known for his off-script comments that sometimes diverge from his administration’s policies, raises concerns about whether his statements will undo the limited progress achieved during Blinken’s carefully orchestrated trip or if both sides can move forward.
Biden’s characterization of China comes as the campaign for the next presidential election is already underway, with Republicans accusing him of being weak on China. Furthermore, Biden was preparing to host Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a state visit, where a shared wariness of China would be a central theme.
During a fundraiser in California, Biden referred to an incident in which the United States claimed to have shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had flown over U.S. skies for two weeks. Biden depicted Xi as out-of-touch and embarrassed by the incident, suggesting that dictators become upset when they are unaware of such events.
Biden also downplayed China’s trade competition, acknowledging its real economic difficulties as the country struggled to recover from the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. These remarks came just hours after Secretary of State Blinken, in an interview with MSNBC, called for both countries to put the balloon incident behind them and close that chapter.
In response, Mao reiterated China’s version of the balloon incident, claiming that it was for meteorological research and had accidentally drifted off course. Chinese officials deemed Biden’s comments as a violation of diplomatic protocol, a severe infringement on China’s political dignity, and a blatant political provocation.
Administration officials indicated that Biden had no intention of retracting his remarks. They emphasized that the U.S. would continue to responsibly manage its relationship with China, maintaining open lines of communication, but also being candid about their differences. These differences include the global competition between democracies and autocracies.
Tensions between the U.S. and China have been mounting for years, driven by trade disputes, competition for global influence, and disagreements over issues like the balloon incident, U.S. tariffs, sanctions on China, and the status of Taiwan. The U.S. is urging China to establish direct communication channels between Biden, Xi, and other senior military and civilian leaders as a means to defuse tensions and prevent incidents from escalating into conflicts.
However, despite diplomatic efforts to improve relations, analysts point out that Republican political pressure and Biden’s tendency to criticize Xi in public remarks hinder progress. Biden’s desire to avoid being seen as soft on China, coupled with his view of Xi as a dictator, contributes to his unfiltered comments. As a result, the relationship between the two countries suffers.
Xi Jinping may be upset by Joe Biden’s claim that he was not fully informed about the balloon incident. Still, he may choose not to overreact and risk further damaging the relationship, as suggested by Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School of Oriental and African Studies.
Initial Republican responses to Biden’s remarks were approving, with Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, describing Biden’s description of China’s system of government as appropriate. Biden himself acknowledged that restoring a relationship with China would take time and highlighted Blinken’s efforts during his visit.
In conclusion, President Biden’s recent remarks about Xi Jinping and China’s economic difficulties have caused a new rift in the relationship between the two countries. The swift condemnation from China raises concerns about the impact of Biden’s comments on the progress made during Blinken’s visit. The U.S.-China tensions, fueled by trade disputes and competition for global influence, have been exacerbated by incidents like the balloon episode and differing views on democratic and autocratic systems. Biden’s unfiltered remarks, driven by his desire to counter Republican criticism and his perception of Xi as a dictator, risk further straining the relationship. However, it remains to be seen how both sides will navigate these challenges and whether they can find common ground to stabilize their ties.
_____Report by Seung Min Kim______