In recent years, U.S. lawmakers have accused China of “saber-rattling” – notably as Beijing has taken an increasingly harder line over Taiwan, which it maintains is a breakaway province that will be returned to mainland control by force if necessary. This week it could be Washington that has shown that it can rattle the sabers with the best of them.
Yet, instead of taking a cue from Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign policy stance to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” President Joe Biden has simply offered to tell it like it is.
Calling Xi a Dictator
On Tuesday, Biden called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator,” which sparked an angry reaction from Beijing. At a campaign fundraiser in California, the U.S. leader suggested that Xi didn’t know about the alleged Chinese spy balloon that flew over the U.S. earlier this year.
“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 the 125 attendees at the event on Tuesday, which included California Governor Gavin Newsom. “That’s a great embarrassment for dictators when they didn’t know what happened.”
Spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mao Ning said that Biden’s comments were “extremely absurd and irresponsible, seriously contradicting the basic facts.”
Mao further accused the president of “seriously violating diplomatic protocol and seriously infringing on China’s political dignity, which is an open political provocation.”
Was it a Biden Gaffe?
It is unclear if Biden’s comments were part of a prepared speech, or if the president went off-script.
President Biden is noted for being a “gaffe machine,” and has a history of making questionable or even inappropriate comments. Biden has also been noted to embellish stories that bewilder fact-checkers.
However, in this case, it isn’t the facts that are in question but Biden’s judgment in labeling the Chinese leader a “dictator.”
Saying It Out Loud
It is true that Xi has become China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, and secured a “precedent-breaking” third term as president in March, as well as head of the Communist Party last October. Moreover, Xi presides over a one-party system that the West may see as a dictatorship due to its lack of independent judiciary, free media, and even universal suffrage. However, Biden has now been accused of saying out loud what isn’t normally said by U.S. leaders.
“Biden’s big mouth is a loose cannon,” Wu Xinbo, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, told Reuters. “Mutual trust is what China has been stressing, so Biden’s comments are very destructive and damaging.”
Undoing Blinken’s Visit?
Biden’s comments also come just a day after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Xi for talks in Beijing, which were aimed at easing tensions between the two superpowers. It was the first visit to China by a U.S. secretary of state in almost five years, and it was meant to restart high-level communications between the two countries. Beijing had indicated that some progress had been made, while Blinken suggested both sides were open to more talks.
Major differences, however, remain between the two countries, and Biden’s comments on Tuesday aren’t likely to have helped matters.
It was also reported that the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group is operating in the South China Sea – and Beijing has labeled such deployments to the waters as troubling. USS Nimitz (CVN-68) and its strike group had been operating in the area in April before moving to the Philippine Sea in May, USNI News reported. The Nimitz CSG is now expected to be on the homeward-bound transit of its deployment.
Biden’s attempts at “gunboat diplomacy” while saying it like it is won’t curry favor with Beijing. It further brings into question why Blinken made the trip to China in the first place.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.