For a few brief moments, the world seemed safer after the relatively successful meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping – the leaders of the two most powerful countries on the planet.
But then President Biden gave an off-the-cuff response to a complex question posed by a reporter, and once again we were plunged into despair.
The leaders held four hours of discussions at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in San Francisco.
And although little progress was made on the hot-button issues of China’s claims to Taiwan and its military buildup in the South China Sea, the two sides could say they were speaking again for the first time since China’s visit. former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Taipei, the island’s capital, in August last year, causing relations between the People’s Republic to break down. It was something they could fall back on.
Mr Biden’s subsequent press conference on Wednesday was supposed to seal months of cautious diplomacy, but when asked if Xi was a “dictator”, he went off-script.
“He is,” Biden said. “He is a dictator in the sense that he is a man who runs a communist country based on a form of government completely different from ours.”
President Joe Biden said he still considers Chinese leader Xi Jinping a “dictator.”
Joe Biden and Jinping met on Wednesday for the first time in more than a year for high-stakes talks.
It’s true, but why say it? As Napoleon’s foreign minister, Talleyrand, once advised diplomats: “If God had wanted us to tell the truth, he would not have given us so many words to conceal our thoughts.” »
At least Xi wasn’t in the room — but Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was, and his grimace of horror said it all.
The act of superpower diplomacy was undermined in a moment of stupidity, laying bare the growing and dangerous problem of a vacillating head of state who approaches every problem with an open mouth.
And when he meets face to face with the most powerful political players on the world stage, it can have a devastating effect on world events.
This became evident after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva in the summer of 2021, just as the Western military adventure in Afghanistan was unfolding.
In a chatty news conference that followed, Biden explained how he held Putin accountable for human rights, cyberwar and the integrity of Ukraine.
Yet Putin clearly came away with the impression that Biden was not only a big mouth, but also a pushover, because just eight months later the Russian leader approved the invasion of Ukraine, apparently confident that the United States would not retaliate.
He was wrong, but it is a tragedy that, had Biden projected real strength during their meeting, Putin might have thought twice before military action.
Mark Almond: President Biden gave a spontaneous response to a complex question posed by a reporter, and once again we were plunged into despair
Mr Biden’s subsequent press conference on Wednesday was supposed to seal months of cautious diplomacy, but when asked if Xi was a “dictator”, he went off script.
There is a parallel with John F. Kennedy when, shortly after becoming president in 1961, he met Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev for talks in Vienna.
After the meeting, Khrushchev believed Kennedy to be weak and inexperienced, which emboldened his decision to station nuclear missiles in Cuba, causing a standoff that threatened to end in nuclear annihilation.
Like Biden six decades after him, Kennedy’s determination was underestimated by the Kremlin. But this time, the American president has more than one global crisis to manage. Biden has to juggle Russia, China and now the war in the Middle East, and the signs are that it’s all too much for him.
In the face of these enormous, simultaneous challenges, America and the West need a steady hand on the rudder and a respected leader who can be counted on to remain silent and exercise discretion when necessary. We don’t need a leader who pays lip service.
Certainly, his predecessor and hopeful for the next presidency, Donald Trump, was loud and unpredictable, but his language was more calculated than Biden’s.
He ridiculed Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man” in 2017, which was undoubtedly a childish insult but served to destabilize the North Korean leader accustomed to more diplomatic approaches. And then Trump caught everyone off guard when he proposed face-to-face talks.
Fortunately, Biden isn’t ready to meet with Kim anytime soon. But we’re stuck with this president until at least January 2025.
Biden extends Xi’s hand at the entrance to the Filoli estate
Pictured: Delegates from the United States and China line up at the negotiating table.
In the meantime, his team must keep him away from situations where his unfiltered comments could have disastrous effects. The world order is on a razor’s edge and America, its main policeman, must act with strength and confidence.
The problem is that as Biden gets older, he will only get worse. It’s not like he isn’t aware of the problem. In May last year he joked: “Every now and then I make a mistake. Like, well, once per speech.
And if it wasn’t true, it would be funny. His performance on Wednesday stood in stark contrast to the solidity of the inscrutable President Xi.
At his separate news conference, the Chinese leader was asked if he trusted Biden.
The reporter who asked the question, ABC China correspondent Selina Wang, said Xi took out his translation earpiece, looked at her but did not respond.
It seems, Wang noted, that “Xi knows the value of silence.”