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‘He’s a dictator’: Biden defends controversial Xi comment despite progress in talks

By Jake Beardslee · November 16, 2023

In brief…

  • Biden again referred to Xi as a "dictator," drawing objections from China.
  • This follows a similar remark from Biden over the summer about Xi being embarrassed by the U.S. shooting down a Chinese spy balloon.
  • Despite the tension over Biden's words, he and Xi had a productive meeting this week.
  • Xi said China does not seek to surpass or contain the U.S. and urged avoiding crossed boundaries.
Biden stood by calling Xi a dictator, but the leaders had a productive meeting and Xi said China does not seek confrontation despite their differences.  The White House/Wikimedia

U.S. President Joe Biden stood by his characterization of Chinese President Xi Jinping as a “dictator” on Wednesday, even after the two leaders made some progress during their meeting outside San Francisco this week.

“He’s a dictator in the sense that he is a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours,” Biden told CNN. “Anyway, we made progress.”

China objected strongly to Biden’s comment. At a press briefing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning called it “extremely erroneous” and an “irresponsible political maneuver, which China firmly opposes.” She added that some people are trying to undermine China-U.S. relations but “will not succeed in doing so.”

This isn’t the first time Biden has referred to Xi as a dictator. Over the summer, he compared Xi to “dictators” after the U.S. shot down a Chinese spy balloon. Biden suggested Xi was embarrassed because he “didn’t know” the balloon was flying over the U.S.

China also objected angrily to the earlier remark. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said it “seriously violates diplomatic etiquette” and called it a “great embarrassment for dictators.”

Despite the tension over Biden’s word choice, he described this week’s meeting with Xi as “constructive and productive.” He said he knows Xi well from their time as vice presidents, and that Xi has been “straight” with him even though they disagree on many issues.

For his part, Xi urged the U.S. “not to scheme to suppress or contain China” during the talks, according to Chinese state media. He said China has no intention of surpassing or unseating the United States, and both sides should avoid crossing boundaries.