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Xi’s Radical New Course: Will Biden’s Gaffe Sink Sino-US Relations?

The Xi-Obama Summit in Chongqing, China was seen as a welcomed shift in diplomatic relations between the two countries after a few decades of tension. Initially seen as a hopeful event for the United States and China to create better relations, the talks were marred by an off-the-cuff comment from President Joe Biden. Biden commented that Xi was a “dictator”, a comment that stirred up controversy online and among the Chinese press. The confusion began in the White House during a press conference when President Biden was asked about his confidence in the efficacy of the negotiations with China. He stated that he has “no confidence” that China’s government could make any real changes with a “dictator in Beijing” in control. This statement was already dumbfounding to the press while the officials accompanying President Biden also seemed taken aback. The comment reflected a sharp change of tone from the extreme criticism of China’s human rights record and the United States involvement in the South China Sea conflict at the beginning of the Obama-Xi Summit. The Chinese press was highly critical of Biden’s comment, with many comparing him to President Trump, approved to be a vocal critic of China throughout his term. Some commentators went so far as to say that Biden’s statement was “just as bad, if not worse than Trump” in terms of “saying something undiplomatic about a top Chinese leader”. It is not certain whether the Xi-Obama Summit will last long term or prove to be straws in the wind, with President Biden’s comments significantly undercutting the hope that had built up during the talks. While the comment may have been made for comedic purposes, the potential ramifications are certainly not to be taken lightly. The tone of the talks was already set to be a diplomatic exercise in salvaging a bilateral relationship that had been rocked by years of conflicting views between two nations vying for global domination. The United States has traditionally been the world leader in terms of human rights and democracy. Yet, President Biden’s comments appear to have some re-affirming the Chinese view that the United States has departed from its values in order to fulfill its own agenda. Despite the tension created by Biden’s off-the-cuff comment, it is important to note that a conversation regarding human rights and political reform needs to occur between the two countries in the 21st century. With the global competition for influence and resources at stake, President Biden’s comments have certainly thrown a wrench in the works. It will be interesting to see how relations between the two countries develop in the future.