(by Chris O’Brien, WashingtonTimes.com) BEIJING – World leaders and ordinary citizens around the globe expressed amazement and admiration Wednesday at the election of America’s first black president.
“His win has really changed my view of America,” Beijing sales manager
Lei Xiuli said of President-elect Barack Obama. “I have read a lot
about discrimination against black people in America. Now I realize
that it’s actually not that bad.”
Wu Xinbo, vice president of the Shanghai Institute of American
Studies, said the election demonstrated the “greatness” of the United
“It shows the American people have come a long way since the days of
Martin Luther King,” Mr. Wu said. “In many regards, the U.S. represents
more progressive ideas and China should learn from the U.S.”
Official congratulations were coupled with hopes that as president,
Mr. Obama will help bring the world back from the brink of financial
meltdown and provide more collaborative leadership than outgoing
Particularly in developing countries, there was a sense of awe that
Americans had elected a president whose father was from Kenya.
Kenyans danced through the night and wrapped themselves in U.S.
flags, and President Mwai Kibaki declared a public holiday on Thursday
in honor of Mr. Obama.
South Africa’s iconic black leader Nelson Mandela wrote in a message
to Mr. Obama: “Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in
the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called Mr. Obama’s
election “extraordinary” and said he hoped it would bring stronger
hemispheric relations and an end to the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised Mr. Obama’s
“extraordinary” journey that would “inspire people not only in your
country but also around the world,” according to Agence-France Presse.
Pope Benedict XVI sent a telegram of congratulations to Mr. Obama to hail the “historic occasion.”
Even U.S. adversaries praised the Obama win as the beginning of a new direction for the world’s sole superpower.
In a letter issued by his foreign ministry, Venezuelan President
Hugo Chavez congratulated Mr. Obama, citing his election as a “symptom”
of the same political trends that have brought leftist leaders to power
throughout South America.
Iran, suspected of trying to develop nuclear weapons, saw the Obama
win as “an evident sign of that country’s people demanding basic
changes in U.S. foreign and domestic policy,” said Iranian Foreign
Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Mr. Obama has said he would meet with Iranian leaders but also has
promised tougher sanctions if Tehran does not give up its nuclear
Among Western leaders, the competition was over flattery.
The apparent victor was French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has
built a cordial relationship with Mr. Bush after years of strain in
U.S.-French relations over the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
“Your stunning victory rewards a tireless commitment to serving the
American people,” Mr. Sarkozy wrote in a handwritten note addressed
“Dear Barack” and e-mailed to reporters by the French Embassy in
Washington. “It is also the crowning achievement of an exceptional
campaign whose brilliance and high tone demonstrated the vitality of
American democracy to the entire world, while keeping them spellbound.”
Mr. Sarkozy promised that “France and Europe, which have always been
bound to the United States through their ties of history, values and
friendship, will thus be re-energized to work with America to preserve
peace and prosperity in the world. Rest assured that you may count on
France and on my personal support.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed the election as “a moment
that will live in history as long as history books are written” and
promised to work with Mr. Obama on the economic crisis.
“I know Barack Obama,” Mr. Brown said, “and we share many values. We
both have determination to show that government can act to help people
fairly through these difficult times facing the global economy.”
But the very fact that Mr. Obama is viewed as less unilateral than
Mr. Bush could make it harder for Western governments to rebuff U.S.
For example, the war in Afghanistan could provide an early test of relations between the new administration and its NATO allies.
“We will approach the situation in Afghanistan according to the
conditions on the ground,” British Foreign Secretary David Miliband
said. He was reacting to a comment by Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland
Democrat, suggesting that Mr. Obama might ask Britain to provide more
troops for the beleaguered country.
Pakistanis also have expressed concern at Mr. Obama’s remarks during
his campaign that he would authorize U.S forces to attack Pakistan in
hot pursuit of militants.
A statement from the Pakistani Embassy in Washington said President
Asif Ali Zardari had congratulated Mr. Obama and “expressed the hope
that the Pakistan-U.S. relations will strengthen under the new American
leadership that has received a popular mandate for change.”
As Israelis heaped praise on the president-elect Wednesday, they
also questioned whether Mr. Obama could be as staunch a supporter of
the Jewish state as Mr. Bush.
Palestinians said they looked forward to Mr. Bush’s replacement.
Mr. Obama’s pledge to use direct diplomacy with Iran to block it
from building nuclear weapons has stirred concern among Israeli
officials who think Tehran should be isolated.
Yuval Steinitz, a Likud legislator who has pressed for a hard line
against Iran, said the new president faces a stark choice: “He will
have to choose in the next year whether to be Chamberlain or
At the same time, Palestinians said they feared that the conflict will be pushed to the back burner.
“This administration is going to take its time coming to this
issue,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former member of the Palestinian
Cabinet. “The warnings are against high expectations, and expecting
Jordan’s King Abdullah II sent Mr. Obama a message saying he looked
forward to cooperation with Washington to “resolve the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict in line with a two-state solution.”
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had trouble
disguising his relief that Mr. Obama had defeated Sen. John McCain, a
Republican perceived as more supportive of unilateral U.S. military
“With a glad heart, I welcome this new era of partnership for change,” Mr. Ban told reporters.
Mr. Ban said he would offer assistance to Mr. Obama’s transition
team and discuss with the president-elect areas of mutual interest
“like climate change and millennium development goals, the food crisis,
the financial crisis, human rights, and also many regional conflict
issues on which we need strong U.S. cooperation, assistance and
“I am confident, today, about future relations between the United
Nations and the United States,” Mr. Ban said. “I am confident that we
can look forward to an era of renewed partnership and a new
Wendy Morigi, Mr. Obama’s national security spokeswoman, said the
president-elect deeply appreciates the response from people and their
“He looks forward to speaking with those leaders in the coming days
and working with them to address our common challenges,” Ms. Morigi
• Kelly Hearn in Washington, Al Webb in London, Joshua Mitnick in
Tel Aviv and Betsy Pisik at the United Nations contributed to this
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted
with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not
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1. What do you think of the reaction of some Chinese citizens to Barack Obama’s election?
2. Barack Obama’s father was Kenyan. How are Kenyans reacting to his election?
3. How would you describe the reaction of leaders from South Africa, Brazil and India?
4. What do the reactions of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown indicate?
5. What concern has the Pakistani government expressed over Sen. Obam’s election?
6. How do Israeli and Palestinian reactions to Sen. Obama’s election differ?
7. What do you think about the reaction of world leaders to the election of Barack Obama? Be specific.
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