Antony Blinken has to watch helplessly as the US president calls the Chinese head of state a “dictator.” Despair is written all over Blinken’s face.
Often what remains is one International Summit One image stuck in your head. The strange photo of two heads of state, the one scene that everyone ended up talking about. This was also the case at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco, a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community.
In the end, there was one scene particularly worth discussing: not the exciting meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese Head of State Xi Jinping per se, but a moment on the sidelines: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on the verge of despair, in the end, Biden and Xi noted. Back to the “dictator”. Videos of Blinken’s reaction to his boss’s statement quickly spread online in the hours and days that followed.
Back to top: Biden held a press conference outside San Francisco after his meeting with Xi. He had just finished announcing that the very tense relations with China were returning to a somewhat more orderly form. That was the primary goal of the meeting, which Blinken and other government officials had been working toward for months in a diplomatic balancing act. Biden walked away from the desk and was about to leave the room when reporters shouted at him with more questions. Biden responded to this question: whether he would continue to call Xi a “dictator” after the meeting.
“Look, this is it,” Biden responded. Xi is a dictator in the sense that he leads a communist state “based on a form of government very different from our own.”
The suffering of the chief diplomat
Only later did footage from television cameras emerge publicly showing Blinken in the front row at the press conference — and his reaction to Biden’s answer. Even as the question is asked, Blinken visibly sighs, rolls his eyes, presses his lips together and folds his arms in his lap. He looks briefly in the president’s direction. As he begins to answer, Blinken begins to squeeze his hands together convulsively. After the decisive first words, Blinken turns his head to the side and frowns, as if he is in physical pain. He furrows his forehead, closes his eyes briefly and struggles to control himself.
As expected, the Chinese government criticized Biden’s statement, calling it “wrong” and “irresponsible.” In an interview with US television network CBS, Blinken was later asked what was going through his mind at the press conference given the diplomatic complexities of the moment and whether the US government’s general line was to describe Xi as a “dictator.” The minister regained his composure a long time ago and said, as usual, diplomatically: “The president always speaks frankly, and he speaks on behalf of all of us.” The US government will likely continue to “say and do things that China does not like” – and vice versa.