Xi Jinping is still a dictator, says Biden after the meeting with the Chinese leader

Woodside, California

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday he still believes Chinese President Xi Jinping is a dictator, even as the two leaders made progress in their relationship during a meeting outside San Francisco.

“Well, look, he’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who’s running a country that’s a communist country that’s based on a form of government that’s completely different than ours,” Biden told CNN’s MJ Lee. “At least we made progress.”

When asked about Biden’s latest comment at a briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday, a spokesman called it “extremely false” and an “irresponsible political maneuver that China strongly opposes.”

“What needs to be pointed out is that there will always be some people with ulterior motives who try to undermine China-US relations. They will not succeed in doing that,” said spokesman Mao Ning.

Beijing reacted furiously over the summer when the president made a similar comment comparing his Chinese counterpart to “dictators” in June.

The President made that comment below an off-camera campaign reception in California, hitting Xi for being surprised after the US shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had veered off course over the US.

“The reason Xi Jinping was very upset when I shot down that balloon with two boxcars full of spy equipment in it is because he didn’t know it was there.

“No, I’m serious. That’s what’s a great embarrassment for dictators when they didn’t know what was going on,” Biden said at the time.

The response from Beijing in June was swift and furious.

“The remarks seriously contradict basic facts, seriously violate diplomatic etiquette and seriously violate China’s political dignity,” the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

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Wednesday’s comment could threaten to derail the positive energy coming out of the meeting, which Biden described earlier at the news conference as “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.”

Biden cultivated a deep relationship with Xi during their time as vice presidents and still appears to have a warm personal relationship, even as US-China relations have since soured. He even wished the Chinese leader’s wife a happy birthday during their talks, a senior US official told CNN.

“I know the man, I know his modus operandi, looked him in the eye – we disagree. He has a different view on a lot of things than I do, but he’s been straight. I don’t mean as good, better, never mind, just straight up,” he said.

For his part, Xi urged the United States “not to plan to suppress or contain China” during Wednesday’s wide-ranging talks, Chinese state media reported.

“China has no plans to surpass or depose the United States, and the United States should not plan to suppress or contain China,” Xi said, according to a readout released by China’s state news agency Xinhua.

“Both sides should understand each other’s principles and bottom lines, not create or cause trouble or cross borders, (but instead) communicate more, have more dialogue and more discussions, and deal with differences and accidents calmly,” Xi said.

The two leaders “underscored the need for mutual respect, peaceful coexistence, maintaining communication and conflict prevention” during the meeting, according to Xinhua.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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