SINGAPORE – Transfixed by a U.S. presidential vote that failed to swiftly yield a clear winner, a watching world responded Wednesday with a mixture of worry, disbelief and, in some quarters, scorn.
Many foreign allies weighed in with precisely the kind of counsel that U.S. diplomats and officials for generations have handed down whenever shaky democracies stand at a political crossroads: Let the voting process play out, and let's hope it's a fair one.
In much of the world, ordinary people and governments alike had already internalized the prospect that this divisive electoral contest might drag on for days or even weeks.
But still, it was a morning-after laden with a sense of the surreal – that the United States, which for so long held itself up as a flawed but inspirational political model, had come to this. In South Korea, an editorial cartoon in the Hankyoreh newspaper depicted a shattered Statue of Liberty, with President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden tussling amid the fragments and each yelling: "I won!"
Traditional U.S. allies in Europe, who watched the erosion of trans-Atlantic ties under Trump with trepidation, had already signaled a willingness to work with whoever emerged victorious, saying that longtime strategic alliances overrode political personalities.
But a few senior European government officials, noting Trump's demands that vote counting be halted and his false claim to have won the election, expressed open dismay over the tense aftermath of the balloting. German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, speaking on ZDF television, called the situation "explosive."
"It is a situation of which experts rightly say it could lead to a constitutional crisis in the U.S.," she said. "That is something that must certainly worry us very much."
In Britain, perhaps the closest historic U.S. ally and one of the world's oldest parliamentary democracies, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ducked a pointed question about whether Trump had been wrong to call for a halt to vote-counting.
"We don't comment, as the U.K. government, on the democratic process of our friends and allies," Johnson, who has cordial personal relations with Trump, told lawmakers after Keir Starmer, head of the opposition Labor Party, queried him about the president's wee-hours demand.
Under Trump, relations with China have been mercurial, but Beijing's official stance on the balloting was restrained.
"The U.S. presidential election is the country's internal affair. China doesn't take a position on it," Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a news briefing Wednesday.
But many intellectuals, businesspeople and individual commentators followed the election in granular detail throughout the day Wednesday, engaging in lively social media discussions about individual states being called.
Some were openly derisive of the U.S. electoral system.
"A small number of white people in a few swing states who have not attended university determine the fate of this country and even of the world," wrote Wang Yongqin, an economics professor at Shanghai's Fudan University, on the microblogging site Weibo.
Others, apprehensively eyeing the discord from across the globe, made clear the high stakes beyond U.S. shores. Penny Wong, the leader of the opposition in the Australian Senate, pointed to "historic numbers" of Americans voting in this election.
"They deserve to have their voices heard. The democratic process must be respected, even when it takes time," Wong wrote on Twitter. "It's in Australia's interest that America remains a credible, stable democracy."
Some said that whatever the ultimate outcome, the U.S. failure to decisively repudiate Trump would embolden strongman leaders elsewhere, such as Russia's Vladimir Putin and Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan.