By Donald Judd, CNN
Woodside, California (CNN) — 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 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’s MJ Lee. “Anyway, we made progress.”
When asked about Biden’s latest comment at a Chinese Foreign Ministry briefing on Thursday, a spokesperson called it “extremely erroneous” and an “irresponsible political maneuver, which China firmly opposes.”
“What needs to be pointed out is that there will always be some people with ulterior motives attempting to undermine China-US relations. They will not succeed in doing so,” spokesperson Mao Ning said.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby sidestepped a question about the Chinese response later on Thursday and focused on other parts of a reporter’s question. He said the president was “feeling very good about the content of the discussions” he had over the course of the four hours he met with the Chinese president on Wednesday.
Beijing responded furiously over the summer when the president made a similar comment and compared his Chinese counterpart to “dictators” in June.
The president made that comment during an off-camera campaign reception in California, hitting Xi for being caught by surprise after the US had shot down a Chinese spy balloon that had veered off course over the United States.
“The reason why Xi Jinping got very upset in terms of when I shot that balloon down with two boxcars full of spy equipment in it is 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 happened,” Biden said at the time.
The response from Beijing in June was swift and angry.
“The remarks seriously contradict basic facts, seriously violate diplomatic etiquette, and seriously infringe on China’s political dignity,” the spokesperson for the foreign ministry said.
Wednesday’s comment could threaten to derail the positive energy coming out of the meeting, which Biden described earlier in 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 appear to have a warm personal relationship, even as US-China relations have since deteriorated. 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 into his eyes – we have disagreements. He has a different view than I have on a lot of things, but he’s been straight. I don’t mean that good, better, indifferent, just straight,” he said.
For his part, Xi called on the United States to “not scheme to suppress or contain China” during Wednesday’s extensive talks, Chinese state media reported.
“China has no plans to surpass or unseat the United States, and the United States should not scheme 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 make or stir up trouble or cross boundaries, (but instead) communicate more, have more dialogue and more discussions, and handle differences and accidents calmly,” Xi said.
The two leaders “emphasized 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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