Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
November 18, 2023
No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. But as President of the US, the world strongest nation, one has to be disciplined, especially making comments in the public.
Gaffes are not without consequences at least other people will lose some personal respect. As head of the State, as Secretary of State Blinken said in San Fransico that “He (Biden) speaks for all of us: Xi is a dictator” Then people, at least many Chinese people, will look down at the US as well as President Biden: Is there any courtesy left? Is the US civilized? They may apply the “golden rule” by asking Americans what you think if Xi tells Chinese media that “Biden is senile!” Many hicks in the US could ask the US government to declare war against China!
The US is struggling now: there is no normalcy anymore. People who make gaffes used to take the responsibility and correct his/her mistakes. However, Biden does not even acknowledge he mis-spoke as if he stands by his words. But the reality is that he never could back up his words: then it means that the US cannot be trusted.
Worse than Biden’s gaffes are Trump’s constant intentional misleading statements or alternative facts. Surprisingly, many in the US trust Trump than Biden and, as of now, Trump is more likely than Biden to be the next President of the US in 2024! What is the future of this great nation?
5 times Biden’s off-the-cuff remarks have landed him in diplomatic hot water
Sat, November 18, 2023 at 4:00 AM PST
President Joe Biden is known for his loose, off-the-cuff comments. Many have been inconsequential gaffes — an awkward turn of phrase or a moment of embarrassing honesty about his personal life.
Then there are times when Biden has said the quiet part out loud, including on key foreign policy matters. His blunt remarks have prompted pushback from world leaders and attempts to correct the record from State Department and White House officials.
Since becoming president, Biden has repeatedly revealed his inner thinking on sensitive matters of diplomacy and national security, even on issues where his advisers and appointees attempt to maintain strict messaging discipline. He has seldom actually contradicted official policy, but his comments give observers insights into the worries latent in his administration’s relationships with Taiwan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Northern Ireland.
Here are a few of the times Biden has been bolder, and less diplomatic, than his aides may have liked:
Biden calls Chinese leader Xi a dictator
The State Department identifies China as an authoritarian country.
But the U.S. has seldom, if ever, directly condemned individual Chinese leaders as autocrats, even as Chinese paramount leader Xi Jingping has consolidated power over the past few years.
That changed in June, when Biden unexpectedly called Xi a “dictator” at a fundraiser in California.
Biden told the crowd that “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.”
“That was the great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened,” Biden continued.
Beijing immediately pushed back, registering a formal protest and summoning the U.S. ambassador to Beijing for an official reprimand over the comment — further straining already-fractured relations between the nations.
Biden then attempted to downplay his comment, saying at a news conference with the Indian prime minister later that week that he expected to meet with Xi sometime in the near future and that he did not think the incident “had any real consequence.”
Again this week, after Biden and Xi met in San Francisco on Wednesday, Biden reiterated his earlier criticism of the Chinese leader: “Look, he is. He’s a dictator in the sense that he’s a guy who runs a country that is a communist country.” The comments prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visibly wince.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly condemned Biden’s remarks again. A spokesperson told reporters on Thursday that “this kind of speech is extremely wrong and is irresponsible political manipulation.”
Biden pledges to defend Taiwan
Officially, the Biden administration has continued the U.S. policy of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan, meaning the U.S. has not definitively stated whether it would intervene to defend the self-governing island in the event of an invasion by China.
But at various moments during his presidency, Biden has pledged to defend Taiwan if China were to invade and try to integrate it by force, prompting observers to say that strategic ambiguity is functionally dead.
At a CNN Town Hall in 2021, Biden said the U.S. has a “commitment” to Taiwan. In May and September 2022, Biden vowed that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion — prompting Beijing to warn that Biden’s comments had sent a “seriously erroneous signal to Taiwanese separatist independence forces.”
The White House and State Department have repeatedly walked back Biden’s comments on coming to Taiwan’s defense. Then-State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a May 2022 briefing that “our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait of course remains,” while also reiterating the U.S. commitment to provide the island with “military needs to defend itself.”
The U.S. is legislatively bound by the Taiwan Relations Act to “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”
Biden says Putin ‘cannot remain in power’
As the U.S. has supported Ukraine in its war with Russia, the Biden administration has condemned Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his threats towards NATO and the West.
Yet the U.S. has stopped short of calling for regime change or providing Russian activists with material support as they seek to restore democracy in the country, and is typically careful not to provoke outrage from the Kremlin.
A speech from Biden in March 2022 raised alarm bells that that approach was changing. A month after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden visited Poland and delivered a forceful speech in front of the Royal Palace in Warsaw, pledging Western support behind Kyiv as it repelled the Russian military.
But that speech was overshadowed by an off-hand comment. Biden said the war would not result in a Russian victory, exclaiming “for God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” in reference to Putin.
The White House quickly clarified that Biden was not calling for regime change, but meant that Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over the region.
The reaction was swift from Moscow and other world leaders. A Kremlin spokesperson told Reuters “that’s not for Biden to decide” because “the president of Russia is elected by Russians,” and later told Russia’s RBC that Biden was “the victim of many misconceptions.”
Biden claims the British are ‘screwing around’ in Northern Ireland
When Biden visited the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in April to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it was touted as a homecoming for a president who celebrates his Irish heritage and as an affirmation of the U.S.’ commitment to maintaining peace. Biden told local leaders in Belfast that “the enemies of peace will not prevail” and “democracy needs champions,” urging them to revive power-sharing in the wake of political gridlock.
But a month later, Biden told supporters at a New York fundraiser that he also visited Belfast “to make sure they weren’t — the Brits didn’t screw around and Northern Ireland didn’t walk away from their commitments.”
Shailesh Vara, a Conservative MP who served briefly as Northern Ireland secretary, called it “deeply regrettable that President Biden has to use such language to further his reelection chances in the U.S.”
“It’s unbelievable and frightening to think this man is the leader of the free world,” said Democratic Unionist Sammy Wilson, who criticized Biden’s remarks as both hostile to unionists and politically incoherent. “If you believe that there should be a special relationship between the U.S. and U.K., then at least show us some respect.”
Biden slams Saudi Crown Prince for murder of Jamal Khashoggi
The U.S. has not been shy about criticizing its ally in the past, and politicians have regularly slammed the Saudi monarchy for its conduct. Yet Biden came into office with a particularly skeptical and harsh tone toward Riyadh than Biden.
At a Democratic primary debate in November 2019, Biden said the Saudis would “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s death.
“I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them,” Biden said. “We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”
Biden also said there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia,” and, in reference to the ongoing Yemeni civil war, said he would “end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children.”
But as president, Biden and his aides have lessened their hostility toward Riyadh. The administration released a U.S. intelligence report that said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation to kill Khashoggi, who was a U.S. resident, but in February 2021, the administration said that it would not punish bin Salman for his role in the killing.
In recent months, the U.S. has also pursued a normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, an effort that has required increased U.S. engagement with the Kingdom.
These moves prompted charges of hypocrisy by human rights groups and friends and relatives of Khashoggi, who say that Biden was prioritizing realpolitik over his promises.
“I always bring up human rights, but my position on Khashoggi has been so clear, if anyone doesn’t understand it in Saudi Arabia or otherwise they haven’t been around me for a while,” Biden told reporters in Israel during that trip. “The reason I’m going to Saudi Arabia is to promote U.S. interests in a way that I think we have an opportunity to reassert our influence in the Middle East.”