But amid the unease, some commentators also marveled at the strength and transparency of the U.S. election system and efforts to count every vote — even as coronavirus cases spike.
Here are the latest developments:
- Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and again prematurely declared victory as his lead in key states slipped away.
- The image of American democracy has taken a battering, as has the country’s image as a dependable ally.
- Germany’s foreign minister criticized Trump for “pouring oil on the fire.”
- China struck a conciliatory note toward Washington, citing “broad common interests and space for cooperation.”
- In a possible nod to change at the White House, Turkey’s foreign minister said the country’s relations with the United States are “above politics.”
With the world watching America’s painstaking vote count on Friday — and Biden moving closer to sealing victory — many people recoiled at President Trump’s attempt to undermine the democratic process and reflected on the deep divisions blighting the United States.
The damage to the image of America, a deeply flawed but nevertheless admired model of democracy, may not be easily undone. The country’s retreat into nationalism and isolationism under Trump will also not be soon forgotten in many capitals, whoever wins the contest.
In Germany, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticized Trump’s reluctance to accept the election results and said the United States is not a “one-man show.”
“Anyone who continues to pour oil on the fire in a situation like this is acting irresponsibly,” he said in an interview with Germany’s Funke media group. “Decent losers are more important for the functioning of a democracy than radiant winners.”
Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said on Twitter that “Trump is disregarding the foundations of democracy with his behavior.” He added: “Should he lose, he will not remain in the White House, but he also will not accept defeat. He cares about public opinion — he is ready to poison everything for that.”
And even a man who was among Trump’s closest allies, former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, appeared to be watching with concern.
“We can say for the United States to get into turmoil and confusion because of the election is a minus for its allies and like-minded countries,” Abe said in an interview with Yukan Fuji, an evening paper.
Donald Tusk, a former European Council president and Polish prime minister, compared Trump with the leader of Poland’s right-wing ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, because they “behave like the most bad-tempered brats in a sandpit.”
“Conflict, unjustified aggression, is their element,” Tusk told Polish broadcaster TVN24, adding that “this is characteristic of the rules of the radical right.”
News outlets abroad were similarly alarmed. Britain’s Economist weekly said Trump’s shrinking path to a second term and his loss of the overall popular vote were “a repudiation of sorts,” but added that “the unexpected closeness of the vote also means populism will live on in America.” Even if a Biden administration were to restore alliances, it said, “everyone will know that it could all revert again in 2024.”
With Biden holding leads in four states still counting, including critical Pennsylvania, former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi wrote on Twitter that Biden “will be a great President of the United States.”
“He is a wise and balanced person: he knows how to lead the strongest nation in the world in these difficult times,” Renzi added. “Good job, dear Joe: in a few hours we will finally be able to call you Mr. President.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has frequently clashed with Trump in the past, reiterated his support for Biden on Friday and blasted Trump.
“Clearly I’m rooting for Joe Biden because I’m hoping that the next President of the USA is somebody who’s not obsessed by hate-filled policies,” Khan told BBC Radio London.
“It’s not a game, it’s a democracy,” Khan said, adding that Trump should do his best “not to undermine the democratic process.”
Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, broke his government’s silence on the election cliffhanger, saying the country’s relations with the United States is “above politics” and that NATO-ally Turkey has “worked with Democrats and Republicans.” But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has developed a close personal relationship with Trump, could face a testier relationship with Biden, who has called Erdogan an “autocrat.”
Caution as battles brew
But in the absence of a clear victor or a court determination on legal challenges, many leaders were not inclined to weigh in on the fray.
In a statement Thursday evening at the White House, Trump again claimed without proof that he had been cheated, and he leveled unsubstantiated allegations of widespread vote-rigging — remarks that threatened to further undermine the credibility of U.S. democratic practices. His campaign has announced legal challenges to determine which votes will count. On Friday, Trump tweeted more baseless claims of electoral fraud and repeated his incorrect claim that he had won.
Newspapers in Britain took aim at Trump’s disinformation, with the Daily Mail writing: “White House shoot-out: Now Trump gets dirty,” while the Daily Mirror’s front page read: “America ripped apart as Trump fans the flames.” The i newspaper put it simply: “President in meltdown.”
The left-leaning Guardian reflected in an editorial on the “deep weaknesses” in American democracy and called the electoral college system “an abuse that is ripe for the scrapheap.” And it painted a bleak picture ahead, suggesting that the possibility of a Democratic-controlled White House and a Republican-majority Senate spelled more gridlock and acrimony.
In Germany, Donald Trump Jr.’s call on Twitter for a “total war” over the election struck with particular resonance. Bild, the country’s biggest tabloid, said the “words brought back memories of the infamous speech by Hitler’s propaganda minister Josef Goebbels” when he called for “total war” as Germany lost the upper hand in World War II.
Regardless of the result, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper said the election exposed the widening divides in American society, based on race, religion and region. “It is as if the United States of America today is made up of two entirely different countries,” the front-page Vox Populi column said. “And the whole world, including Japan, is on pins and needles until it becomes clear which of these two Americas has won the 2020 contest.”
That was a sentiment echoed in Russia, where the pro-Kremlin Nezavisimaya Gazeta said the election’s “aftereffect in a split society and U.S. politics will be felt for a long time.” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said late Thursday that “the obvious flaws of the American electoral system have taken their toll.”
In the Middle East, people in different countries created entertaining memes and videos about the election, forwarded en masse to their contacts on WhatsApp. Various iterations of the same meme circulated: Arab men standing around cracking sunflower seeds in an image overlaid with the text, “Arabs following the U.S. election drama knowing whoever gets elected is gonna bomb their region anyway.”
A leader of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Yossi Dagan said Friday that a Biden victory does not necessarily mean the end of efforts to annex the communities into Israel proper. Biden is expected to take a much dimmer view than Trump of any expansion of the settlements and strongly opposed the annexation plan.
Dagan said he expected Biden to be too preoccupied with the U.S. coronavirus crisis to pay much attention to the settlements, but that Israel must present a strong front to the new administration.
Outreach from China
China’s government, which has largely remained silent about the election in recent days, struck a conciliatory note. Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said he hoped the next U.S. administration would work with China on issues of mutual interest.
“Despite disagreements between the two countries, there are broad common interests and space for cooperation. Sustaining and moving forward a healthy and stable China-U. S. relationship is in line with the fundamental interests of the two peoples,” Le told reporters during an appearance at a Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Beijing. “We hope the new American administration will meet the Chinese side halfway to focus on cooperation and manage differences.”
The remarks from Le, a Foreign Ministry official who has been an increasingly prominent Chinese voice on relations with the United States, were characterized by some Chinese state media as an olive branch to Washington.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a news conference that she hoped the United States could “come back to normalcy,” and she repeated criticism of Washington for “interfering” in Hong Kong and China’s affairs. Lam is among officials under U.S. sanctions for eroding the rights of Hong Kong people.
And while some around the world poked fun at the slow-moving U.S. vote count, others appreciated the strength of the system. “We can all joke about how painfully long America is taking to count its votes. But it also underlines that every vote actually counts in their system,” said Nidhi Razdan, a journalist in India.
American media also drew praise in India from commentators for calling out Trump’s falsehoods about the election being stolen from him. “A media with a spine telling truth to power! Salute!” said journalist Rajdeep Sardesai.
Denyer reported from Tokyo, Hassan from London, Khurshudyan from Moscow and Noack from Berlin. Gerry Shih in Taipei, Niha Masih in New Delhi, Loveday Morris in Berlin, Akiko Kashiwagi in Tokyo, Amar Nadhir in Washington, Sarah Dadouch in Beirut, Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem, Michael Birnbaum in Riga, Latvia, Kareem Fahim in Istanbul and Shibani Mahtani and David Crawshaw in Hong Kong contributed to this report.