‘This is a guy who is a thug’: how the US elite became hawks on Xi’s China

‘This is a guy who is a thug’: how the US elite became hawks on Xi’s China

In 2012, just before taking over as China’s leader, Xi Jinping spent a week in the US in an effort to charm the American public. He visited a farm in Iowa where he had stayed as a young man and took in a Lakers basketball match in Los Angeles, posing for photographs with Magic Johnson. 

His host for the trip was vice-president Joe Biden, who praised Mr Xi for his willingness to shake up the impression Americans might have about Chinese politicians.

“This is a guy who wants to feel it and taste it, and he’s prepared to show another side of the Chinese leadership,” Mr Biden said at the time.

Eight years later, the now Democratic presidential candidate has a very different tone. “This is a guy who doesn’t have a democratic — with a small d — bone in his body,” he said in February about Mr Xi. “This is a guy who is a thug.”

Mr Biden is not alone in seeing Beijing through different eyes. In the hyper-partisan Washington during the presidency of Donald Trump, Democrats and Republicans are locked in combat over the Supreme Court, the economic response to the coronavirus pandemic and even over mask wearing. China is almost the sole exception where common ground is to be found.