International Reactions to US Presidential Debate: China and Russia Scoff, Allies Express Concern

Foreign powers, particularly Russia and China, have seized upon President Biden’s performance in the recent presidential debate, using it as an opportunity to criticize the United States and its political system. Many of these countries, with state-controlled media outlets, have portrayed the debate as a spectacle highlighting the divisions and dysfunction within American society.

“Every outlet, big and small, carries a piece describing what happened,” a strategic military intelligence analyst and author of “Putin’s Playbook,” told Digital. “Some have more than one. Most of them, if not all, are derogatory of both candidates and mocking America.”

“What [Russian President Vladimir] Putin is seeing is that the American Society is deeply fractured and consumed by its own problems,” Koffler said. “Putin likely believes that Russia wins either way, no matter who wins, because he expects the U.S. to plunge into chaos in the aftermath of the elections, because the .”

“Bottom line, Moscow feels confident that the societal crisis that has engulfed the U.S. is good for Russia,” she added. 

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov claimed that “was too bored to wake up and watch the U.S. debate,” but that “we have seen media reports about these debates.” 

Peskov added that the Kremlin has made no attempt to “assess this debate” or make “official conclusions” and insisted that Russia has “never interfered in the election campaigns of the United States.” 

Outside the Kremlin, Russian media have reportedly touted the debate as a victory for Russia, with Putin positioned to dictate terms in the war in Ukraine – especially if Donald Trump were to win the White House. 

They highlighted Biden’s “half-open mouth, unblinking eyes” and “blank expression on his face.” 

“This is before an audience of millions,” Russian state TV New York bureau chief Valentin Bogdanov said on Kremlin-backed RT. 

The news report especially focused on the reaction from CNN, calling the anchors “powerless” and the Democratic Party in the throes of a “deep panic,” according to East2West. 

China also took an unfavorable view of the debate. Official media appeared to generally ignore it, but the state-run Global Times labeled it “the most chaotic presidential debate ever” and “like a reality show” while also highlighting the times Biden and Trump talked about China, . 

The Global Times most specifically took issue with Trump blaming Beijing for “the raging COVID-19 epidemic and U.S. economic woes.” 

State-owned Beijing News claimed that the debate exposed both candidates’ shortcomings, with a “habitually confused” Biden and Trump spreading “rumors” instead of answering questions directly. 

The Xinhua news agency framed the debate within the context of an America “weary of another Biden-Trump match-up” and focusing on Biden’s “several verbal slips” and “unclear” speech, while hitting Trump for failing to answer questions directly while providing statements that “contained many exaggerations and falsehoods.”

Chinese social media personalities were even more pointed. Former state media editor Hu Xijin on social media platform X mocked the U.S. presidential debate for proving “very entertaining for many Chinese people,” . 

“Objectively speaking, the low-quality performance of these two old men was a negative advertisement for Western democracy,” he wrote. 

Other social media users described the debate as a “disaster,” “train wreck” and “waste of time, though it should be noted that Chinese media has regularly tried to paint the U.S. as a country in turmoil with an uncertain political future. 

Iran’s Republic News Agency did not appear to focus much on the debate as the country holds this weekend, which dominated coverage, but Middle East expert and The Foreign Desk editor-in-chief Lisa Daftari warned that the mediocre showing at the debate will interest all of America’s rivals. 

“Any American adversary may look at President Biden’s performance as a reminder that the leader of the free world is currently less than competent,” Daftari said. “It’s always been the case that the United States has the ability to defend its interests and bring about stability throughout the world just through deterrence and proper rhetoric and positioning.”

“That has not always been the case with the Biden administration, and [Thursday] night’s performance allows for an even more extreme perception of American weakness,” she added. 

“We are looking at many precarious global crises right now, including China invading Taiwan, Iran’s regime possessing and/or using nuclear weapons, Iran’s regime continuing its proxy wars against Israel and Western assets in the region [and] Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine,” Daftari said. “Of course, any one of these current crises may find more momentum between now and the election.”

Reaction even in allied nations was less than glowing, starting with Polish Foreign Minister Radslaw Sikorski’s cryptic message on X, which some have taken to be an unfavorable comparison between Biden and the great Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. 

“Marcus Aurelius was a great emperor, but he screwed up his succession by passing the baton to his feckless son Commodus (He, from the Gladiator) whose disastrous rule started Rome’s decline),” Sikeorski wrote. “It’s important to manage one’s ride into the sunset.” 

French news outlet Le Monde described that debate as a “terrible storm” and bemoaned Biden’s obsession with trying to “push his opponent off his hinges” by mocking Trump’s answers to questions, . 

German outlet Der Spiegel compared the debate to “a car accident” and half-heartedly applauded both candidates for the “theatrical performance” while claiming that supporters on both sides will feel that their candidate did their job. 

Another outlet, Die Welt, lamented that Biden was not an exciting candidate but one who had “common sense and a stable personality” who would keep “normalcy” in the White House.