Much of the world welcomed election results Saturday showing Joe Biden as the next president of the United States after several days of vote counting, but rebuilding respect for the U.S. on the global stage remained a work in progress.
Since election day on Tuesday, the spectacle of a careful tallying of ballots nationwide — as the sitting, and losing, president hurled lies and invective about the election supposedly being stolen from him — has drawn a measure of pity from world leaders and communities.
The Trump presidency squandered America’s reputation as the world’s leader, said Virak Ou, founder and president of Future Forum, a think tank in Cambodia, adding that he was skeptical that a Biden administration could reverse a growing belief abroad that the U.S. was in decline.
“More people are realizing that there’s too much fluctuation in American foreign policy, that the U.S. can’t be a credible and reliable ally,” Ou said. “You assume with a stable presidency you can go back, but in the eyes of the world, America can just go back to another Trump one day. He’s changed everything.”
That sentiment has been expressed repeatedly in the foreign policy salons of Washington and capitals of allied nations. Trust has eroded deeply, perhaps irreversibly, since Trump began his term in January 2017, many observers say.
Among leaders who have good relations with Trump, reaction was, initially at least, muted. As supportive of Trump as they may have been, it is in their strategic interest to be cordial to Biden. And many friends and foes were pondering how economic and diplomatic ties might change.
In Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has managed to maintain what some consider a good relationship with Trump despite the American president’s anti-immigrant and anti-Mexico rhetoric, including referring to Mexicans as rapists and saying they bring crime and drugs to the United States.
Many people in Mexico view a Biden victory as a chance to normalize a binational relationship that in recent years has been subject to the whims, threats and unpredictability of Trump — a man who made building a border wall a rallying cry.
Arturo Sarukhán, a Mexican ambassador to Washington during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, said Trump hurt democracy.
“These past 4 years, Trump hasn’t only been trolling those he disagrees with; he’s been trolling democracy and democratic norms and principles, as well as open, plural and tolerant societies,” Sarukhan tweeted.
Héctor Aguilar Camín, a columnist for Mexico’s Milenio newspaper, wrote that U.S. voters favored an even-tempered president “of democratic disposition.”
“The voters said goodbye to a president who is anomalous, filled with anger, unpredictable, misogynous, racist, [and] of authoritarian nature,” he wrote.
For Brazil’s authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro, Biden’s victory will inflict “a jolt of reality” and a likely shift in relations between the hemisphere’s two most populous nations, said political analyst Gerson Camarotti.
Bolsonaro, a far-right former military officer sometimes called the Trump of the Tropics, has been an ardent devotee of Trump — and, like his U.S. counterpart, has stirred up racial, class and other divisions in Brazil, while also downplaying the COVID-19 pandemic and threats to the Amazon rainforest.
In September, Biden vowed in a presidential debate that he would seek to raise $20 billion globally to help save the Amazon, and said Brazil could face economic sanctions if it didn’t move to save its rainforests. Bolsonaro reacted angrily, calling the former U.S. vice president’s comments “a disastrous and unnecessary declaration.”
On Wednesday, as U.S. ballots were being counted, Bolsonaro repeated his support for Trump’s reelection.
On Friday, as Trump was facing defeat, Bolsonaro told reporters that Trump “is not the most important person in the world,” according to the Spanish news agency EFE.
“I am not the most important person in the world, just as Trump is not the most important person in the world,” he said. “The most important person is God.”
Leaders and commentators in allied countries were largely stunned by Trump’s declaration that the election was being stolen from him.The conservative Times of London wrote that “it is hard to look at our closest ally … without concluding that it is a nation in trouble.”
German politician Norbert Rottgen, a possible successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Trump’s presidency “has consequences that are self-damaging, especially for the U.S., more than … Germany,” according to Die Welt newspaper.
Chinese officials were among the foreign leaders who did not immediately react to the U.S. election.
But Hector Qi, 52, owner of a small book company in Wuhan, did offer an opinion. He said he thought relations with the U.S. would likely worsen regardless of who won, but had hoped Trump would be reelected. Many Chinese supporters of Trump are suspicious of Biden because of rumors that he is friendlier with China’s Communist Party, Qi said.
“Many Chinese people have a strong hatred for that, although we can’t freely express this,” he said.
Few territories watched the U.S. elections more closely than Taiwan, the self-governing island of 24 million under renewed threat of invasion from China.
Optimism there was buoyed by the bipartisan mistrust for China that it shares with the U.S., suggesting a sustained willingness to counter Beijing and defend the peaceful status quo in the Taiwan Strait.
“The Taiwanese government is not nervous,” said Yisuo Tzeng, director of the Division of Cyber Warfare and Information Security at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research. “Even with a Democrat in the White House, the U.S. will continue to have a more proactive posture with China. Biden may prefer a more old-school, multilateral approach, but nothing will be different in areas like Taiwan’s security.”
Few governments have been as friendly to the Trump administration as Israel under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Fundamental relations are not likely to change with Biden.
“The prime minister is said to be friends with Biden, but he won’t have his own keys to the White House like he’s had with Trump,” Israeli journalist Yossi Verter wrote in the newspaper Haaretz.
In President Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a country not known for strong democratic tendencies but a rare place overseas where Trump is popular, officials seemed inclined to school Americans, expressing concern for the state of U.S. affairs.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in one of her regular news conferences that she hoped U.S. authorities “will help avoid an outbreak of popular unrest in that country.”
*Wilkinson reported from Washington, McDonnell from Mexico City, Su from Beijing and Pierson from Singapore.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.