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Biden calls Xi a dictator after APEC summit

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Just after meeting President Xi, Biden made a shocking remark, calling him a “dictator”. This is the second time Biden has used this label right after talks with China.

The meeting between Biden and Xi was meant to make US-China relations more stable by opening communication and reducing tensions.

But Biden might have undone any progress made on issues like Taiwan and Fetanayl when he called Xi a dictator right afterwards. 

For a president who claims to value diplomacy, this reckless remark contradicted the summit’s aims of constructive dialogue. 

And with China ties already on edge, this risks offending Xi and stirring up more tensions. Was this a calculated political move? Or did Biden just slip-up again?  

Find out everything that happened between the US and China at the APEC summit in today’s video. 

Just hours after meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping for what he described as  “some of the most constructive and productive discussions we’ve had.” President Biden undid all the progress he may have made with one word – “dictator.” 

This isn’t even the first time Biden has done this. Back in June, Biden labeled Xi a dictator for the first time shortly after Secretary of State Blinken visited Beijing to mend ties in the wake of the spy balloon affair. 

Even that time Biden’s comment was surprising since Blinken had made that trip to stabilize relations and lay the groundwork for a potential Biden-Xi summit. Yet despite the progress, Biden doubled down, calling Xi a dictator mere hours later.

It’s hard to say what Biden was hoping to achieve the first time he called President Xi out, but it did nothing to soothe tensions between China and the US with the Asian superpower quickly calling the comment a “public political provocation” that is “against the basic facts and diplomatic protocols.”

Now for the second time, Biden has decided to provoke China right when his whole administration was trying to repair the relationship and make progress on some key issues. 

This comes across as another diplomatic misstep from Biden. Rather than rightfully pointing out China’s authoritarianism, his words give Xi an opportunity to criticize Biden and call him two-faced for trying to improve their relationship at the summit only to turn around and call him a dictator when his back is turned. 

This not only undermines any goodwill built during the summit but also plays into China’s narrative that the US is condescendingly lecturing rather than genuinely engaging in meaningful diplomacy. After all, President Biden described President Xi having been “straight” with him in the past.  

So it seems only damaging to the relationship between both countries to repay that honesty with a seemingly two-faced approach to their meeting.  

Some of you might be wondering why Biden said it then. What does his comment ultimately achieve? 

Realistically, the comment achieves nothing substantive and was likely just meant to reassure domestic hawks, and serve as a talking point during his re-election campaign so he can say he was tough on China. 

But will this tough talk backfire by angering Beijing and escalating tensions?

That remains to be seen. However, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson responded saying:

And judging by Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s on-camera reaction, there will be more fallout from the statement down the line.

Still, Biden’s team had meticulously prepared for months to make his summit meeting with President Xi a success, and while there were no major break-throughs, their dialogue has left a lot to dissect. 

In their opening remarks, both Biden and Xi acknowledged the complexities but stressed the importance of understanding, communication and responsibility in steering ties away from confrontation. Though differences were clear, the summit started with a tone of mutual respect and recognition of shared interests.

While not expecting a reset, Biden hoped the summit could at least identify guardrails and clear up misperceptions in an effort to prevent conflict in the critical relationship.

One important accomplishment to come out of these talks was China-US cooperation on countering narcotics. 

Both countries will also restart military communication and promised to open their lines of communication to one another. 

But despite Biden heralding the talks as “some of the most productive discussions we’ve had” there were flash points. 

During the summit, all eyes were on one of the biggest issues threatening US – China relations: Taiwan. 

And those watching the summit were not disappointed. The leaders had a “substantial” exchange on Taiwan during which Xi pushed hard for progress on “peaceful reunification”, urging the US to stop arming Taiwan and support its goal instead. 

In response Biden reiterated the US’ long standing policy of adhering to the One China policy. He also did not agree to Xi’s demands to stop selling weapons to Taiwan or supporting Taiwan in other ways. Instead Biden urged China to respect Taiwan’s electoral process, something that Xi will never do if he is serious about reunification.

If you’re wondering, the One China policy is a US policy from 1979 recognizing the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, while also maintaining an unofficial relationship with Taiwan. 

Thanks to this policy, the US has been able to balance relationships with both sides. And as part of this policy, the US reserves the right to sell defensive arms to Taiwan and look for a settlement of the Taiwan question. This balancing act has so far allowed the US to deter Chinese aggression against Taiwan while still pursuing broader interests through engagement with Beijing.

While the One China policy may have worked in the past, President Xi made it clear that he wants the US to fully support China’s view that Taiwan belongs to it – something Biden has not done.

So, ultimately both leaders stuck to their existing positions on Taiwan while also showing that there are still disagreements on what the policy should mean in practice.

Besides this flash point, a lot can be gleaned from what President Xi said in his speech:

Xi’s insistence that China has no plans to surpass or unseat the United States, and that the United States should not scheme to suppress or contain China is a sign that Xi is willing to improve China’s relationship with the US if they can stay out of each other’s business. 

While Biden sees competition as inherent in these bilateral relations, Xi rejected this view as unhelpful, emphasizing cooperation on shared interests instead. However, Biden gave no public indication of backing down on existing economic, technological and military policies which emphasize China’s role as a rival to the US. 

So where do China-US relations stand now? 

Overall, the summit meeting seems to have exposed the limits of potential cooperation when the relationship is undergirded by strategic distrust. 

Not to mention, Biden’s willingness to publicly label Xi a “dictator” right after the meeting is a questionable move that risks further aggravating tensions. While China’s authoritarian system certainly merits criticism, immediately labeling Xi a dictator seems intended to appeal more to Biden’s domestic political ambitions than these bilateral relations.  

Openly calling Xi as a dictator, achieves little beyond personally offending and antagonizing China’s leader. Rather than stabilizing ties, Biden’s blunt approach breeds further distrust and makes serious diplomatic breakthroughs even less likely.

With the U.S.-China relations already on the precipice, Biden’s loose remark could cost the US further fallout with China.

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