Joe Biden said on Wednesday he had not changed his view that Chinese President Xi Jinping was effectively a dictator, a comment likely to land with a thud in Beijing after the two leaders held straightforward summit talks. Biden, standing solo after four hours of talks with Xi on the outskirts of San Francisco, was asked whether he still considered the Chinese leader to be “a guy who runs a country that’s a dictatorship in the sense that it’s one-party state with a ruling class that is all-powerful.” “Yes, I do,” he replied. It was the second time this year that he had used the term “dictator” to describe Xi’s rule, a remark that has exacerbated longstanding strains in US-China relations.
The US vice president and Xi were joined by their respective top advisers at a table for their talks, and despite the fact they were flanked by aides on either side of the long table, they seemed to develop a close personal relationship. The two men laughed often, and Biden wished Xi’s wife a happy birthday, which the Chinese leader thanked him for. The two also discussed China’s treatment of US citizens and the issue of human rights.
While they praised progress on curbing fentanyl production and resuming military-to-military communication, the US president said deep strains remain. He urged Xi to do more to ensure that the rights of American citizens in China are respected and that they can travel freely without fear. He also pressed the Chinese leader to use his influence with Iran to compel Tehran not to push back against Israel and Hamas in the Middle East.
Biden and Xi are scheduled to meet again later this year to build on their progress at this summit. The meeting will be essential to gauge if the two countries can overcome differences that have dominated their relationship since Xi came to power in 2013.
Before the talks, Biden and his aides set expectations low on everything from trade to Beijing’s ambitions in Taiwan. US officials described the discussions as productive and direct but left open the question of whether the pair had achieved enough to make a meaningful dent in their differences. The two countries will have to continue tackling complex issues such as China’s massive build-up in Taiwan, its threat of invasion and interference in the island’s elections next year, and its support for terrorism. They also will need to work together on the Iran conflict, the Israel-Hamas war, and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The Biden-Xi talks and broader summit events drew protests around the city, but demonstrators were kept from the summit venue. The fentanyl and military-to-military communications agreements will be announced at a news conference after the two leaders leave the hotel. Then, the real work begins: implementing what they agreed to at their long tables.