Most world leaders are ignoring Trump’s election claims—China is an exception

November 9, 2020, 10:32 AM UTC

On Saturday evening, President-elect Joe Biden declared that his victory over Donald Trump in the 2020 election would help the U.S. regain respect around the world.

“I sought this office…to make America respected around the world again and to unite us here at home,” Biden said after U.S. media outlets declared him the winner based on vote counts. “Tonight, the whole world is watching America. I believe at our best America is a beacon for the globe.”

By the time Biden spoke, foreign leaders had already started issuing their congratulations to the President-elect, as is tradition, including France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, and Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen.

But as of Monday morning, there remained a conspicuous holdout: China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has yet to formally congratulate Biden on beating Trump, and Beijing has indicated that it doesn’t plan on doing so as long as Trump continues to dispute the election result. (Trump has claimed voter fraud in states he lost, without providing evidence.)

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“We noticed that Mr. Biden has declared election victory,” a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday. “We understand that the U.S. presidential election result will be determined following U.S. law and procedures.”

In the 2016 presidential election, Xi called then President-elect Donald Trump less than 24 hours after Trump declared victory over his rival Hillary Clinton. But that year—unlike Trump this time around—Clinton conceded to Trump after he passed the vote threshold needed to win.

China’s reluctance to congratulate Biden may reflect its painstaking efforts to appear neutral in American politics. Chinese state media, which often reflects the views of Beijing, also has not fully acknowledged Biden’s victory, but it appears to be preparing for the prospect of a Biden presidency.


In waiting to congratulate Biden, China joins a handful of notable countries that have remained silent on the election outcome.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said in a press conference on Saturday that he would only congratulate a winner once legal matters related to the election were resolved. Countries like Russia, Iran, and Poland have not made statements or have signaled that they will wait for Biden’s official election by the Electoral College before congratulating him.

The reluctance of China and other foreign countries to acknowledge Biden’s victory suggests that Trump has been partially successful in sowing confusion and bucking tradition with his belligerent response to the results.

Days after vote tallies determined Biden had won the presidency, Trump’s campaign continues to insist that the “election is far from over” and has said it will continue to pursue legal challenges to the election results, though it has not cited specific evidence for such claims. Legal experts believe such litigation will not overturn the outcome.

In recent weeks and months, Beijing has been hypersensitive about not giving the appearance of interfering in American politics. China has long promoted a policy of staying out of the politics of other countries, but its government may be especially wary of the U.S. election this year since both Trump and Biden campaigned as the “tough on China” candidate.

“The dazzling dramas around the U.S. presidential election have been going on for quite some time,” a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in September amid accusations that China was interfering in the election on Biden’s behalf. “[The U.S.] can by all means save this game for themselves. We don’t ever want to be part of it.”

State media

Before Election Day, Chinese state media also was careful to not be seen as backing a specific candidate. Government authorities even reportedly pressured state media outlets to limit coverage of voting results in battleground states as they trickled in last week to avoid appearing biased toward either Biden or Trump.

Now that the election is over, Chinese state media seem to be abiding by Beijing’s official stance, showing reluctance to treat Biden as the President-elect unequivocally. At the same time, some publications have signaled that China is happy to have Trump gone.

After Biden secured the requisite 270 electoral votes on Saturday, The People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, tweeted “Haha” with a laughing emoji in reference to Trump’s claiming to win the election.

The People’s Daily has since deleted the tweet, but other media outlets have started referring to Biden as the likely next U.S. President, even as they refrain from declaring him the winner outright.

In an editorial on Sunday, the Global Times, a state-backed nationalist tabloid, wrote that it was a “foregone conclusion” that Biden would win the election. The editorial noted that “Western allies” had congratulated Biden, but the paper suggested that China would reserve its well-wishes until Trump concedes or electors officially cast their votes for Biden in December—whichever comes first.

The editorial argued that even though Trump repeatedly attacked China, a Biden presidency may not bring about friendlier relations between the two superpowers.

“China should not harbor any illusions that Biden’s election will ease or bring a reversal to China-U.S. relations, nor should it weaken its belief in improving bilateral ties,” the Global Times wrote on Sunday.