The comments came after both China and the US welcomed progress in easing tensions following a recent visit to Beijing by a top US diplomat.
US President Joe Biden called Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator”, days after praising their countries for making little progress in cooling tensions.
During a joint news conference with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday, Biden said his blunt statements about China were “just not something I’m going to change very much”.
“I hope to meet President Xi in the near future at some point in the future. And I don’t think it has had any real consequences,” he said.
The “dictator” comment reportedly came at a campaign fundraiser in California earlier in the week. At the event, Biden described the Chinese leader as out of the loop when a Chinese spy balloon floated over the US.
“This is a major embarrassment for dictators. When they didn’t know what happened,” Biden said at the fundraiser. “It wasn’t supposed to go where it was. It definitely blew up.”
The statement came a day after US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken wrapped up a visit to Beijing, becoming the highest-level official to visit the country since Biden took office in January 2021.
Both sides reported temporary success in easing tensions during the visit, which was expected to lay the groundwork for a possible formal meeting between Biden and Xi.
On Thursday, China’s embassy in Washington said it had issued a formal protest against Biden’s comments.
“With the latest irresponsible comments about China’s political system and its top leader, people cannot help but question the sincerity of the US side,” the embassy said in a statement.
“The Chinese government and people do not accept any political provocation against China’s top leader and will respond firmly,” it added.
Chinese Ambassador Ji Feng earlier told senior US officials on Wednesday that they should “take earnest steps to undo the negative impact” of what Biden said or “endure all the consequences”.
The ambassador’s message was unclear about whether Beijing was seeking an apology from the Biden administration or what the consequences would be.
Biden administration officials on Wednesday also defended Biden’s comments, saying the president made a point of distinguishing between democracies and dictatorships around the world.
US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who has said improving relations with China is critical to maintaining global stability, also addressed Biden’s comments at a separate news conference on Thursday.
“With respect to the comments, I think President Biden and I both believe it’s important to maintain communication … to clear up misconceptions, miscalculations. We need to work together where possible,” he said.
“But we have our differences, and we clearly acknowledge that we have our differences,” he added.