President Joe Biden reportedly shocked a group of United States officials after openly discussing sensitive information about the Chinese spy balloon in front of a room full of donors.
Tuesday, the president told around 130 guests at a fundraiser in California that Chinese President Xi was embarrassed after the U.S. shot down the Chinese spy balloon off the South Carolina coast in February.
“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,” said Biden reportedly at a private Kentfield home Tuesday. “No, I’m serious. That’s a great embarrassment for dictators when they didn’t know what happened.”
Officials from the U.S. in attendance were surprised by the president’s remarks at a campaign event, according to the New York Times, which reported an anonymous source confirmed Biden’s comments were accurate.
President Biden also referred to Xi as a dictator during the event, prompting Chinese officials’ anger.
Biden’s 2024 campaign didn’t respond when asked if a campaign event was an appropriate setting to share information that appears to have yet to be released publicly by the intelligence community.
The possibility of oversharing by the president came only days after he said the spy balloon fiasco “was more embarrassing than it was intentional” for China when he was asked if he could ease tensions overseas and about Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to the country.
“China has some legitimate difficulties unrelated to the United States, and I think one of the things that balloon caused was not so much that it got shot down, but I don’t think the leadership knew where it was, knew what it was in it and what was going on,” said Biden Saturday. “I think it was more embarrassing than it was intentional.”
China: Biden’s comments “severely infringe on China’s political dignity.”
Wednesday, China hit back, saying that Biden’s comments “severely infringe on China’s political dignity.”
“The U.S. remarks are extremely absurd and irresponsible. It is a blatant political provocation,” said Mao Ningm, Foreign Ministry spokesperson, at a briefing. “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition.”
President Joe Biden’s remarks calling Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, a “dictator” and China a country with “real economic difficulties” drew immediate condemnation from China Wednesday and cracked open a new rift just after the two countries agreed to tentative steps to stabilize the relationship.
In Beijing, Mao Ning, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, condemned President Biden’s unusually pointed remarks as “extremely absurd and irresponsible.”
The clash of words came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a visit to Beijing Monday to break the ice in a political relationship that has hit a historic low. Although both sides saw the talks as productive, they only resulted in significant breakthroughs beyond an agreement to return to a comprehensive agenda for competition and cooperation.
China’s rapid response to President Biden, a president known for seemingly off-script remarks that venture beyond his administration’s policies, raises questions on whether his comments would undo the limited progress made in Blinken’s cautiously engineered trip or if the two sides would move on.
President Biden’s characterization of China comes as the campaign for 2024’s presidential election is already taking off, with Republicans accusing him of being weak on China.