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America’s Asian allies condemn storming of Capitol Hill

US allies across the Asia-Pacific region condemned “distressing” scenes in Washington on Wednesday as Donald Trump supporters storming Capitol Hill and delaying the Electoral College’s confirmation of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.

“What is happening is wrong,” Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, said on Thursday morning. “The right of people to exercise a vote, have their voice heard and then have that decision upheld peacefully should never be undone by a mob.”

Ms Ardern said she was “devastated” by the clashes, but added: “I have no doubt democracy will prevail”.

In a warning usually reserved for nations wracked by domestic strife, Canberra updated travel advice to Australian nationals in the US, urging them to avoid areas in Washington DC where “protests are occurring and there is an ongoing potential for violence”.

Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, told reporters that the riots and protests in Washington were “incredibly distressing”.

“This is a difficult time for the US clearly,” Mr Morrison said. “They are a great friend of Australia and they’re one of the world’s greatest democracies . . . Our thoughts are with them and we hope for that peaceful transition to take place.”

New Zealand and Australia are members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance, along with the US, Canada and UK. This year, senior officials from the five allies have repeatedly expressed concerns about the increasingly assertive behaviour of China, Washington’s principal geopolitical rival.

“Distressed to see news about rioting and violence in Washington,” Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, said of the events. “Orderly and peaceful transfer of power must continue. The democratic process cannot be allowed to be subverted through unlawful protests.”

The swift statements of concern from Australia, New Zealand and India stood in stark contrast to official silence in Beijing, where the scenes of chaos in Washington could be a propaganda coup for President Xi Jinping’s administration.

Chinese officials have hailed their effective containment of the coronavirus pandemic as evidence of the “superiority” of its political system vis-à-vis the US, where the outbreak has continued to spread unchecked.

Communist party propaganda organs often do not react to events abroad until an government comment and media directives have been drawn up. On Thursday, China’s official Xinhua news agency led its website with pictures of Mr Xi meeting villagers and expressing concern about a virus outbreak in central China.

Other state media outlets carried brief dispatches about the developments in Washington and published dramatic photos and videos.

But Chinese social media platforms were awash with sardonic comments that compared the unrest in Washington to the Arab Spring and “colour revolution” protests as well as last year’s often violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

The social media account of the Chinese Communist party’s Youth League posted a picture of Trump supporters surrounding the Capitol and called it a “global masterpiece” — an apparent reference to House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comment last year that a large pro-democracy candlelight vigil in Hong Kong was “a beautiful sight”.

Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said Tokyo was watching the situation in Washington with concern.

“We hope that American democracy can overcome this difficult situation and that there will be a peaceful and democratic transition with a return to social peace and harmony,” he said.

The foreign ministry in Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing claims as part of China’s sovereign territory, “expressed regret for the clashes inside and outside the Capitol Building”.

Some Taiwan officials and analysts are concerned that Mr Biden’s administration will take a less aggressive stance against China than Mr Trump and be less willing to authorise arms sales and official visits to Taipei.

Tom Mitchell in Singapore, Jamie Smyth in Sydney, Benjamin Parkin in Mumbai, Kathrin Hille in Taipei, Qianer Liu in Shenzhen and Xinning Liu and Christian Shepherd in Beijing


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