There were words of welcome Wednesday from across the world for Joe Biden as he was sworn in as America’s 46th president. They were mixed with parting shots from some leaders aimed at his predecessor, Donald Trump, who left Washington hours before the swearing-in.
As the inauguration has been atypical — with no crowds and the Capitol guarded by thousands of National Guardsmen — so, too, the reaction has been out of the ordinary from overseas leaders.
Some European leaders who had tempestuous relations with Donald Trump did not hold back on their relief at seeing President Biden installed.
“Once again, after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Wednesday.
“This new dawn in America is the moment we've been waiting for so long. Europe is ready for a new start with our oldest and most trusted partner,” she told European lawmakers in Brussels. She said she hoped Biden would be able to repair divisions in the United States and that his inauguration would be “a message of hope for a world that is waiting for the U.S. to be back in the circle of like-minded states."
Europe welcomes Biden
German President Frank Walter Steinmeier called Wednesday “a good day for democracy.”
“I am relieved that Joe Biden is sworn in as president today and coming into the White House. I know that this feeling is shared by many people in Germany,” he said in a statement.
Steinmeier praised the strength and endurance of American democracy, saying, “In the United States, (democracy) held up against a lot of pressure. Despite internal hostility, America's institutions have proven strong -- election workers, governors, judiciary and Congress.”
Other European leaders avoided referring to past difficulties and appeared to be trying to make sure they are seen as good allies for the incoming administration.
“In our fight against COVID and across climate change, defense, security and in promoting and defending democracy, our goals are the same and our nations will work hand in hand to achieve them,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement.
Johnson told the House of Commons he looked forward to welcoming the new U.S. president to Britain later this year for a G-7 summit of the world’s leading nations and for a climate conference to be held in Glasgow.
Italy’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, was also focused on the future.
“We are looking forward to the Biden presidency, with which we will start working immediately in view of our presidency of the G-20,” he told Italian lawmakers on Tuesday. “We have a strong common agenda, ranging from the effective multilateralism that we both want to see, to climate change, green and digital transition and social inclusion.”
But Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez did not mince his words about what he thinks Biden’s election win means.
“The (election) victory of Biden represents the victory of democracy over the ultra-right and its three methods, the massive deception, the national division and the abuse, even violent, of democratic institutions,” he said at a public event. “Five years ago, we thought Trump was a bad joke, but five years later, we realized he jeopardized nothing less than the world's most powerful democracy.”
The Trump administration and EU leaders clashed on several issues, including international trade and climate change, a reflection of deeply different world views.
Reaffirming NATO ties
Trump upbraided Europeans for not spending enough on their defense, an issue that’s also likely to be raised by the Biden administration, but probably more diplomatically. At times, Trump painted Europe as a foe and sometimes questioned the value of NATO, a clear break with traditional transatlantic relations since World War II.
Trump’s combative style, as well, was very different from what Europeans have experienced from other post-WWII American leaders.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted congratulations to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, adding: "Today is the start of a new chapter for the transatlantic Alliance. … A strong NATO is good for both North America and Europe.”
I congratulate President @JoeBiden on his #InaugurationDay. A strong #NATO is good for both North America & Europe, as none of us can tackle the challenges we face alone. Today is the start of a new chapter & I look forward to our close cooperation! https://t.co/cUB90k7XaW— Jens Stoltenberg (@jensstoltenberg) January 20, 2021
Biden is widely seen as the most pro-Atlanticist American president since George H.W. Bush.
Two years ago, at a security conference in Munich, European leaders were tugging at Biden’s sleeves in the margins urging him to run for office. After enduring a rough-and-tough “America First” speech from then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, their nerves were soothed by Biden, when he quipped in his address: “This too shall pass. We will be back.”
Policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic say they are now determined to repair frayed relations and to steady democracies roiled by unprecedented domestic political turmoil and challenged by authoritarian powers.
Asia reacts to President Biden
Strengthening democracy, though, was not in the mind of China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, who told a press briefing Wednesday: “In the past four years, the U.S. administration has made fundamental mistakes in its strategic perception of China ... interfering in China's internal affairs, suppressing and smearing China, and causing serious damage to China-U.S. relations.”
She said China’s leaders hope that the Biden administration will “meet China halfway and, in the spirit of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit, push China-U.S. relations back to the right track of healthy and stable development as soon as possible.”
Also, in Asia, around 100 Japanese supporters of Trump took to the streets of Tokyo Wednesday, waving American and Japanese flags and unfurling banners with false claims that Trump was “the true winner” of last November’s presidential election.
“We wanted to show that many people in Japan are supporting President Trump,” the organizer, Naota Kobayashi, told Reuters. “We all chanted together so that our voice can fly over the Pacific Ocean and reach the U.S."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani focused on the 2015 nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew the United States, saying he hoped Biden would reenter the pact and lift American sanctions imposed on Iran.
“The ball is in the U.S. court now. If Washington returns to Iran's 2015 nuclear deal, we will also fully respect our commitments under the pact,” Rouhani said in a televised Cabinet meeting.
Reaction from Russian officials has been muted. Ahead of the inauguration, Russian leader Vladimir Putin remained silent, but Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told a press briefing that he did not foresee a change in American-Russia relations.
“Nothing will change for Russia. Russia will continue to live just the way it has lived for hundreds of years, seeking good relations with the U.S.,” he told reporters. “Whether Washington has reciprocal political will for that will depend on Mr. Biden and his team.”
The Kremlin-controlled daily Izvestia newspaper noted “the prospects for Russian-U.S. relations under the new U.S. leader do not encourage optimism so far.”
But Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s final leader, called for Moscow and Washington to repair strained ties.
“The current condition of relations between Russia and the United States is of great concern,” Gorbachev told state-run news agency TASS. “But this also means that something has to be done about it in order to normalize relations. We cannot fence ourselves off from each other.”