The president of China Xi Jinping began his first visit to the United States in six years on Tuesday inside his bulletproof, 18-feet long Hongqi sedan. He arrived in California for a high-profile meeting with President Joe Biden and to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
President Xi descended down the steps of his Air China jet on the tarmac of San Francisco International Airport and went straight into his motorcade to his hotel. His custom-designed Hongqi, codenamed N701, costs at least $700,000 and comes equipped with anti-rocket armor plates, thick bulletproof windows and systems to protect from biological and chemical weapons.
But the Chinese vehicle is dwarfed in comparison by President Biden’s 10-ton Cadillac which is worth $1.5million and boasts night vision cameras, tear gas cannons and eight inches of armor. Hongqi translates to Red Flag in English and it is a subsidiary of automaker FAW Car Co which is the oldest car manufacturer in China. It was founded in 1959 with the main purpose of manufacturing vehicles for high-level government officials.
President Xi’s N701, which has been modified from the Hongqi L5, has been described as China’s take on the Rolls-Royce Phanton but more exclusive, expensive and imposing. The luxury sedan stretches 18 feet, weighs at least 3.1 tons and is powered by a six-liter V12 turbocharged engine which produces 408 horsepower. It has been heavily modified to protect the Chinese president and comes with a host of special functions. Although many of the specifications are state secrets, the car has anti-rocket armor plates to withstand heavy fire and direct impact from bombs. It also has solid 21-inch rubber wheels which are bulletproof, has systems to protect against chemical and biological weapons and thick reinforced bulletproof glass.
The official state car, which debuted during President Xi’s visit to Hong Kong on July 1, 2022, can reach speeds of at least 136 miles per hour. The front of the N701 also features Hongqi’s famed red flag motif stretching across the hood and has two small flag holders on the fenders. Hongqi will only build 50 models over the next 10 years. President Xi told a Communist Party cadre in 2012 that China’s leaders should only use Chinese cars. ‘It doesn’t look right to sit in a foreign car. Lots of foreign leaders use limousines of their own country, unless there isn’t one,’ he said.
The first time he ferried Chinese-made vehicles during a state visit was in New Zealand in 2014 where he transported two Hongqi L5 cars. The L5 was first produced in 2014 and is renowned for being the most expensive Chinese-made car ever available at $700,000. But the N701 pales in comparison to President Biden’s Beast. His vehicle’s doors weigh as much as those on a Boeing 757 aircraft and its tires are pneumatic run-flats so the vehicle can still drive even if they are deflated. The US President also can use a state-of-the-art communication system that is built into the Beast, which weighs about 20,000 pounds. There is also a secure oxygen system and a supply of the president’s own blood in case of an emergency. The Beast was built to withstand chemical and biological attacks as well as bullets and explosions, with its chassis said to be effectively ‘indestructible.’
Its windows are said to be three inches thick while the steel-and-ceramic armor is said to be eight inches thick. In the rear compartment of the car, the president and up to four passengers are separated from the driver by a glass partition. The president is the only one who can lower the partition with a flick of a switch. While many features of the Beast remain highly-classified, its boot is also equipped with a firefighting system, tear, and smoke screens. The rear seats have a satellite phone with a direct line to Vice President Kamala Harris and the Pentagon. And the Beast’s fuel tank is armor-plated and filled with special foam that prevents it from exploding even in case of a direct hit.
The vehicle’s chassis, which was developed by General Motors, is made of steel while the body of the car is a combination of steel, aluminum, titanium, and ceramic. Xi is on his first visit to the US since 2017. He is due to meet Biden at an undisclosed location in the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday morning and then attend the annual summit of the APEC forum. His summit with Biden will be the first face-to-face meeting between the US and Chinese leaders in a year and has been billed by US officials as an opportunity to reduce friction in what many see as the world’s most dangerous rivalry. Xi waved from the steps of his Air China plane upon arrival and descended to meet US officials on the tarmac, including Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns.
Earlier, Biden said he aimed to improve the relationship with China after a period of strained ties and would seek to resume normal communications between the two superpowers, including military-to-military contacts. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that Biden and Xi would also talk about the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza as well as US efforts to support Ukraine in its fight against the Russian military. Economic issues will be high on the agenda. Biden said the US does not want to decouple from China, but wants to change the economic relationship for the better. His administration has made a push to ‘de-risk’ some critical US supply chains from China as the two countries’ economic and military competition has grown.
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