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U.S. Allies React To Breach Of U.S. Capitol By Pro-Trump Extremists


What does the rest of the world think about what happened at the U.S. Capitol yesterday? Some world leaders issued statements using words that you don't often hear applied to ostensibly stable, free countries. They called it an assault on democracy. They urged a peaceful transfer of power. With me now to talk about how the world sees these events, NPR correspondents Rob Schmitz in Berlin, Emily Feng in Beijing and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Good morning and hello to you all.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.


EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Rob, let's start in Europe. Over the past four years, the U.S. has tested the patience of some of its closest allies there. What are Europeans saying?

SCHMITZ: Well, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson called yesterday's scene a disgrace, urging for a peaceful transfer of power, though he was blasted by opponents for not doing enough to call out President Trump's lies after the election. Here in Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel reminded people, in a democracy, winners and losers have to play their parts with decency so that democracy remains secure. But she did say that it was a sign of hope that Congress worked through the evening to confirm the victory of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

KING: Germany is a democracy that is, to some extent, modeled on the U.S. It was shaped by U.S. lawyers after World War II. Does this have specific resonance there?

SCHMITZ: Well, yes and no. You know, Germany has battled populism and nationalism throughout its history. And it's part of how it became a democracy again after World War II. But that battle is still being waged today. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier reminded Germans this morning that just this past August, right-wing opponents of democracy attempted to storm the Reichstag building here in Berlin, Germany's parliament, as part of a larger demonstration against coronavirus prevention measures. So while Germans may be shocked by what's happening in the U.S., they're not strangers to it.

KING: Emily Feng, in Beijing, you've been watching reaction from around Asia. What are you seeing and hearing from the U.S.'s democratic allies in that region?

FENG: The same kind of alarm that you're seeing in Europe. Japan's chief cabinet secretary said that they were watching the situation in Washington with concern. And they hope that the situation would resolve itself soon. And, well, not in Asia, but in the Asia Pacific region, Australia and New Zealand also offered swift condemnation. And New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said she was actually devastated personally by the clashes. But noticeably absent in all of this were comments from Chinese leadership, from Xi Jinping, the president, or its premier. They normally do not comment on these sorts of things. But there was very little reaction out of China.

KING: Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a right-wing nationalist leader who's close to President Trump. How are Israelis taking this in?

ESTRIN: There was a lot of shock here. But Prime Minister Netanyahu said the rampage at the Capitol was disgraceful. He said lawlessness and violence are not values that Americans and Israelis cherish. But he did not hold Trump responsible at all, which some world leaders have.

And then there are some parallels in Israel. There are upcoming elections here. Netanyahu is trying to cling to power. He's on trial for corruption. He calls that a deep state conspiracy. He refuses to step down. And anti-Netanyahu protesters have been staging these very loud protests outside his residence every week calling for him to step down. So there are parallels to the U.S. And Netanyahu's opponents see what's happened in the U.S. They're concerned about Israel. But Netanyahu's supporters are defending Trump. They're saying Trump was silenced by social media, betrayed by Pence. And they are saying Netanyahu could face a similar fate.

KING: Daniel, I would imagine, having worked in the Middle East for some years myself, that people in the Arab world certainly have thoughts about what happened.

ESTRIN: Oh, yes. On Arab social media, there's a lot of satire about America, the bastion of democracy, which suddenly resembles dictatorships in the Middle East. I've seen a meme of Trump in a traditional Arab headdress looking like an Arab dictator, a satirical meme of a Palestinian travel advisory against visiting the U.S. because it's too dangerous...

KING: Oh, dear.

ESTRIN: ...You know, mocking those U.S. travel advisories on visiting the Mideast. But regimes criticized by the U.S. are just relishing this moment. In Iran, the president, Hassan Rouhani, said events at the Capitol show that Western democracy is fragile. Turkish officials are ironically calling on parties in the U.S. to respect the law. In Syria, they're accusing America of hypocrisy.

KING: Irony abounds, yeah. Emily, in Beijing, you said that China hasn't said much. China is a major competitor of the United States. Why not take this opportunity to shoot us one?

FENG: Because the pictures speak for themselves. Videos, pictures from the break-in on Capitol Hill are going viral on Chinese social media, and many are being shared by state media accounts as well. And they focused on a number of the themes that Daniel brings up in the Mideast. They focus on what they perceive as American hypocrisy. In particular, they focus on an incident in July 2019, where protesters in Hong Kong broke into the region's legislative building after hours. And that break-in Beijing is now comparing to the Capitol Hill break-in. Here is China's foreign ministry spokesperson today speaking about this comparison at a press briefing.


HUA CHUNYING: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: She's speaking about how violent protesters stormed Hong Kong's legislature, vandalized the building. But mainstream media in the U.S. condemned that breach, calling the incident - or, sorry, condemned the Capitol Hill breach, calling that incident violent, but then called the Hong Kong break-in a beautiful sight to behold. And what she's talking about is the fact that Nancy Pelosi called a separate, peaceful march in Hong Kong a beautiful sight. She did not condone that legislative break-in. But Chinese state media here are having a field day falsely linking the two.

KING: Important to note that in Hong Kong, they are pro-democracy protesters, unlike these folks in Washington yesterday. Rob, last question to you. You've been doing some great reporting on right-wing movements in Europe. Are European leaders looking at the situation yesterday and thinking, we really need to get ourselves under control here?

SCHMITZ: Yeah. Yeah. Here in Germany, the government is now considering putting its entire far-right party, Alternative fur Deutschland, which has dozens of members in parliament, under surveillance. Some members are already being monitored by the state. And that's because its members espouse racist views. And they've incited hatred and violence, which is a serious crime in Germany due to its Nazi past. And that decision is expected later this month.

KING: NPR's Rob Schmitz in Berlin, Emily Feng in Beijing and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thanks to you all for your reporting.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

FENG: Thank you.

ESTRIN: Thank you.


Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.