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America’s allies watched the debate with their heads shaking and asked: What now?


President Biden told former President Donald J. Trump during Thursday night’s debate that the United States is “the envy of the world.”

After watching their performance, many American friends may disagree.

In Europe and Asia, Mr Trump roars and Mr. Biden That has analysts worried — and not just about who might win the November election.

“The whole incident has been an unmitigated disaster,” said Simon Canning, Australia’s communications manager. Wrote on social media“The candidates and the moderators are a mess. America is in deep, deep trouble.”

Sergey Radchenko, historian at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington release“This election has done more damage to American democracy than Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping could have ever hoped,” he said, referring to the presidents of Russia and China, the most powerful rivals for U.S. global leadership.

“I worry about the image that China projects to the outside world,” he continued. “It’s not an image of leadership. It’s an image of decline.”

Whoever is elected president, the United States faces major global challenges—in Asia, there is a rising China and a nuclear-armed North Korea, recently backed by Putin; in Europe, there is Russia’s war on Ukraine; and in the Middle East, there is Israel’s war with Hamas, which threatens to escalate to southern Lebanon and even Iran.

There was little substance on foreign policy in the raucous debate. Trump continued to insist that he could have stopped Putin from invading Ukraine or Hamas from invading Israel and that he could have ended both conflicts quickly, but again he did not explain how, at what cost or by whom.

Mr Biden mentioned his efforts to rally allies to help Ukraine against Russia. “I got 50 other countries around the world to support Ukraine, including Japan and South Korea,” he said.

François Heisbourg, a French analyst, said that for some, the debate made a Trump presidency more likely than it already was. “So on all issues, the debate confirmed European concerns, some of which were already baked into people’s thinking.”

On Ukraine, people heard Trump say he wanted to cut aid to Ukraine, so that will be a focus of the debate,” he said, while Trump also expressed his liking for Putin as a strong leader.

On Israel and Gaza, however, “I’m not sure it makes much of a difference,” Mr. Heisberg said. “You can’t move the embassy to Jerusalem twice.”

As for the state of American democracy, Esburg sighed. “This is not a new problem,” he said. “It’s more of a confirmation of what’s going on, including in France.”

In addition to existing concerns about Trump’s unpredictability, which the debate only confirmed, there are new concerns about Biden’s ability to govern. Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski offered one of the harshest assessments. He said in a social media post Comparing Biden to Marcus Aureliusthe Roman emperor “botched the succession by passing the baton to his irresponsible son Commodus, whose disastrous reign led to Rome’s decline.”

Mr Sikorski added: “It’s important to manage your life into the sunset.”

“Joe Biden suffers crushing defeat in TV debate with Donald Trump,” read the headline in French daily Le Monde, adding that the president was “a shadow of the Joe Biden who faced Donald Trump in the 2020 election.”

The U.S. president is driving a big truck with a lot of other countries hauling behind it, said Daniela Schwarzer, a member of the executive board of the Bertelsmann Foundation, a think tank in Washington, D.C. “For the next four years, you need a strong U.S. president and a reliable European partner — someone who can hold his ground in a world full of conflicts,” she said.

In Ukraine, the noise about the debate echoed on Friday.

Speaking of Mr. Biden, Bogdan Butkevich“His main task is to convince voters of his energy and willingness to govern,” the famous radio host wrote on social media. But he added: “He has failed to do this. Therefore, the possibility of another Democratic candidate replacing him has increased.”

Trump offered some comfort by saying he found it unacceptable for the Kremlin to retain occupied land.

So did Ukrainian news outlet Kyiv Independent, which ran a headline about the debate: “Trump rejects Putin’s peace terms, while Biden unsettles Democrats.”

Elsewhere, those who hope that the United States can balance China’s rise and prevent North KoreaIndia’s nuclear ambitions have seen it try to rebuild ties with Washington over the past four years after Trump’s first term severely disrupted alliances in the region. Thursday night’s debate immediately revived serious questions about how U.S. politics affects stability across Asia.

Tan Keng Chee, who served as Singapore’s ambassador to the United States from 1996 to 2012, said the quality of the debate had declined compared with previous ones. Biden’s out-of-touch performance and Trump’s repeated attacks and factual misrepresentations unnerved those who rely on the United States as a trusted global partner.

“Everyone is looking at appearances now,” Ms. Chen said. “Does the applicant look qualified for the job, or is age an issue? Facts don’t matter now, and politeness is completely irrelevant.”

In Japan and South Korea, analysts saw the political winds shifting toward Trump, renewing questions about Biden’s age and ability to project strength.

“This is clearly a victory for Trump and a fatal blow to Biden’s campaign,” said Lee Byung-chul, a professor at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

He added: “We must now prepare for a second Trump administration.”

Japan is the main U.S. ally in Asia, and Japanese officials have all but insisted they are happy to work with any country the U.S. chooses. But Trump’s comments during the debate that he does not want to spend money on allies are likely to reignite concerns that his approach to international relations is transactional rather than enduring.

“I guess Japanese policymakers think, ‘Well, there’s a good chance Trump will be elected, so we have to solidify institutional ties as much as possible so he can’t undermine them,’ ” said Koichi Nakano, a political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo. “It’s like tying yourself to a mast that might sink soon, so it’s a false illusion of security.”

India, which traditionally dislikes sudden changes and is slow to shift its foreign policy, has worked to overcome long-standing distrust and expand military and trade ties with Washington in recent years. While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a close relationship with Trump during his presidency, the Indian establishment sees Biden as a steady hand who understands how alliances work and how to control and mitigate geopolitical risks.

Dr. Tara Kasha, a former senior official at India’s National Security Council, said the current state of the US political leadership is worrying for New Delhi. She noted that Trump is unpredictable and could easily change his stance – such as changing his current tough stance on China and reconciling if Beijing offers him better terms on a trade deal. She added that this uncertainty makes it difficult for India to weigh up, as it shares a border with China and has a long-standing rivalry with Beijing.

“We are hedging against China right now and we are not going to cross the line because of this,” she said. “Because you really are not sure what is going to happen in the U.S.”

In China, the presidential debate was a trending topic on the social media platform Weibo. Chinese state media was largely blunt, reporting on the candidates’ remarks — and their lack of a handshake — without much comment.

But in online comments, some users compared Trump’s red tie to the Communist Party’s red scarf, and some social media commentators jokingly called Trump a “nation builder” because his leadership could accelerate China’s global rise.

Social media merriment aside, Shen Dingli, an international relations scholar in Shanghai, said the debate simply reinforced what the Chinese government has long thought: that no matter who is the next president, U.S. policy toward China will only get tougher.

“I believe that Chinese leaders have no illusions,” he said.

What was evident after Thursday’s debate was that few in the region are optimistic about America’s electoral choices.

Kasit Piromya, who was Thailand’s ambassador to the United States (2008-2011) and then Thailand’s foreign minister, lamented the current state of American politics.

“Where are the good people? Where are the brave people?” Casit said, adding that it was now imperative that Southeast Asian countries have their own foreign policy vision.

“Why should I wait until Trump gets bad? I should be able to organize and maybe work with other friends,” he said.

Reported by Damian Cave, Huang Ruili, Choi Sang-hoon, Vera Wang, Camille Elemia, Mujib Mashar, Ségolène Le Stradick and Mark Santora.

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