MARK ALMOND: Why Joe Biden’s loose lips put the world at risk… after he calls Xi Jinping a ‘dictator’
For a few brief moments the world seemed a safer place after the relatively successful meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping – the heads of the two most powerful countries on the planet.
But then President Biden gave an off-the-cuff answer to a loaded question posed by a journalist, and once again we were plunged into despair.
The leaders had held four hours of talks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in San Francisco.
And while little progress was made on the burning issues of China’s claims over Taiwan and its military build-up in the South China Sea, both sides were able to say that they were talking again for the first time since former House speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island’s capital Taipei in August last year, causing the People’s Republic to break off relations. It was something they could build on.
Mr Biden’s press conference afterwards on Wednesday was supposed to seal months of careful diplomacy, but when he was asked if Xi was a ‘dictator’, he veered off script.
‘He is,’ said Biden. ‘He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country that’s based on a form of government totally different than ours.’
President Joe Biden said he still considers Chinese leader Xi Jinping a ‘dictator’
Joe Biden and Xi Jinping met for the first time in over a year for high-stakes talks on Wednesday
It’s true, but why say it? As Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, once advised diplomats: ‘If God had meant us to tell the truth, he wouldn’t have given us so many words with which to disguise our thoughts.’
At least Xi wasn’t in the room – but Biden’s secretary of state Antony Blinken was, and his wince of horror said it all.
READ MORE – Biden says he still considers President Xi a DICTATOR but does not expect China to interfere in Taiwan’s election
The high-wire act of superpower diplomacy had been undermined in a moment of stupidity, laying bare the growing and dangerous problem of a doddering head of state who approaches every problem with an open mouth.
And when he is meeting the most powerful political actors on the world stage face to face, that can have a devastating effect on global events.
This became evident after he met Russia’s president Vladimir Putin in Geneva in the summer of 2021, just as the West’s military adventure in Afghanistan was unravelling.
In a garrulous press conference afterwards, Biden talked of how he had held Putin to account over human rights, cyber warfare and the integrity of Ukraine.
Yet Putin clearly came away with the impression not only that Biden had a big mouth but was also a pushover, because just eight months later the Russian leader sanctioned the invasion of Ukraine, seemingly confident that the US would not retaliate.
He was wrong, but it’s a tragedy that, had Biden projected genuine strength when they met, Putin might have thought twice about military action.
President Biden gave an off-the-cuff answer to a loaded question posed by a journalist, and once again we were plunged into despair
Mr Biden’s press conference afterwards on Wednesday was supposed to seal months of careful diplomacy, but when he was asked if Xi was a ‘dictator’, he veered off script
There is a parallel with John F Kennedy when, shortly after becoming president in 1961, he met the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for talks in Vienna.
After the encounter, Khrushchev thought Kennedy weak and inexperienced, which emboldened his decision to station nuclear missiles in Cuba, causing a stand-off that threatened to end in nuclear annihilation.
READ MORE – Moment Antony Blinken winces and shakes his head when Biden calls Xi a ‘dictator’ at San Francisco press conference
Like Biden six decades after him, Kennedy’s subsequent resolve had been underestimated by the Kremlin. But this time around, the American President has more than one global crisis to deal with. Biden has to juggle Russia, China and now war in the Middle East, and the signs are it’s too much for him.
Facing these huge simultaneous challenges, America and the West need a sure hand on the tiller and a respected leader who can be relied on to remain silent and show discretion when necessary. We don’t need a leader who shoots from the lip.
Yes, his predecessor and hopeful for the next presidency Donald Trump was loudmouthed and unpredictable, but his language was more calculated than Biden’s.
He derided Kim Jong Un as the ‘Rocket Man’ in 2017, which was undoubtedly a puerile insult but one which served to unsteady the North Korean leader who is used to more diplomatic approaches. And then Trump caught everyone off guard when he proposed face-to-face talks.
Thankfully, Biden isn’t set to meet Kim any time soon. But we are stuck with this president until January 2025 at the least.
Biden reaches out to Xi’s hand at the entrance to the Filoli estate
Pictured: Delegates from both the U.S. and China line the negotiating table
In the meantime, his team must keep him away from situations where his unfiltered comments could have disastrous effects. World order is on a knife edge and America, its principal policeman, must act with strength and assuredness.
The problem is that as he gets older, Biden will only get worse. It isn’t as if he isn’t aware of the problem. In May last year, he joked: ‘Every once in a while, I make a mistake. Like, well, once a speech.’
And if that weren’t true, it would be funny. His performance on Wednesday came in stark contrast to the solidity of the inscrutable President Xi.
In his separate press conference, the Chinese leader was asked if he trusted Biden.
The reporter who posed the question, ABC’s China correspondent Selina Wang, said Xi took out his translation earpiece, looked at her but didn’t respond.
It appears, remarked Wang, that ‘Xi knows the value of silence’.
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