- President Joe Biden called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a dictator, soon after Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up his first official visit to Beijing.
- That trip was aimed at mending ties between the two global powers that have hit rock bottom after the U.S. in February shot down what it described as a surveillance balloon.
- A spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry called Biden's remark "ridiculously absurd and irresponsible."
U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday called Chinese leader Xi Jinping a dictator, drawing a harsh response from China and creating a potential diplomatic setback with ties already fragile between the two countries.
Biden made the remark at a campaign fundraiser in California, just after Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up his first official visit to Beijing.
"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 about 125 attendees at a fundraiser in Kentfield, California.
"That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn't know what happened. That wasn't supposed to be going where it was," he added.
The situation underscores the tricky balance Biden must strike in managing ties with an assertive global rival while appealing to voters. Blinken's trip was aimed at mending ties between the two global powers that have hit rock bottom after the U.S. in February shot down what it described as a surveillance balloon — a claim China denies — off the coast of South Carolina.
Biden's comments regarding President Xi were "ridiculously absurd and irresponsible," said Mao Ning, a spokesperson at China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a regular news conference in Beijing on Wednesday, according to a CNBC translation.
"It is a grave disregard for basic facts, a serious breach of diplomatic protocol, a serious violation of China's political dignity and amounted to open political provocation," she added. "China expresses strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition."
Blinken postponed the Beijing trip, which was originally scheduled for February, after the stray balloon incident. His visit over the weekend marked a resumption of high-level U.S.-China government meetings after a tense four-plus months.
While his mission was largely seen as successful in getting the two global powers communicating again, Blinken was unable to revive military-to-military talks with China.
"We're in a situation now where he wants to have a relationship again," Biden said. "Antony Blinken just went over there ... did a good job and it's going to take time," Biden said late Tuesday.