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China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning has responded after U.S. President Joe Biden referred to Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “dictator.”

Biden’s comment: On Tuesday night, Biden attended a fundraiser in California, where he said Xi was embarrassed when a suspected Chinese spy balloon was shot down by the Air Force over the East Coast early this year.

“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 in it was he didn’t know it was there,” Biden said.

“That’s a great embarrassment for dictators, when they didn’t know what happened. That wasn’t supposed to be going where it was. It was blown off course,” Biden added.

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China’s response: “[Biden’s remarks] go totally against facts and seriously violate diplomatic protocol, and severely infringe on China’s political dignity,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing. “It is a blatant political provocation. China expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition. The U.S. remarks are extremely absurd and irresponsible.”

Mao also reiterated China’s explanation that the passage of the balloon for meteorological research through U.S. airspace was unintended.

“The U.S. should have handled it in a calm and professional manner,” she said. “However, the U.S. distorted facts and used forces to hype up the incident, fully revealing its nature of bullying and hegemony.”

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U.S.-China relation: Biden’s comment came a day after the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Beijing in an attempt to stabilize relations with China. Blinken’s trip, which was originally scheduled for February, was previously postponed due to the Chinese “spy balloon” saga. On Monday, he became the first cabinet-level official in the Biden administration to travel to the East Asian country.

Although no breakthroughs were made during the visit, both countries agreed to continue diplomatic engagement in the coming weeks and months.

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