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The world’s strongmen are silent so far on Joe Biden’s election win

Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and other autocrats are holding off on congratulating Biden.

Left to right, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pose for a photo during the 2017 G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. 
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

The list of the most prominent world leaders who have yet to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his historic victory over President Donald Trump bears a troubling pattern: They all have a notable authoritarian streak.

As of November 9, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro remain silent on the outcome of the US election.

As soon as Biden’s win was called by several major US news outlets on Saturday, congratulations poured in from leaders around the world. European politicians and officials who work on climate issues were some of the first to congratulate the president-elect, welcoming the possibility of increased cooperation on climate change.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French President Emmanuel Macron, both of whom have battled Trump over US support for NATO and other issues, offered their congratulations to Biden via Twitter. Trudeau tweeted that the Canada-US relationship is “unique on the world stage” and said he was “looking forward to working together” with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted his congratulations to Biden, while commending Harris on her groundbreaking win. When listing the shared priorities between the US and the UK, climate change was the first issue Johnson mentioned, underscoring the importance of Biden’s win to efforts to limit global warming.

But there’s been a noticeable silence from a select group of leaders. They differ in the ways and extent to which they are willing to grab power, but all exhibit characteristics of strongman rule, which is defined by the refusal to acknowledge opposition and the tendency to emphasize law and order above all else.

Chinese President Xi Jinping oversaw the Chinese Communist Party’s removal of two-term limits, which basically makes him president until his death, and has arbitrarily detained as many as 3 million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps, among other human rights abuses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed through a raft of constitutional reforms in July that allow him to stay in power far beyond his current term limit — and could essentially make him president for life. And in August, he was implicated in the poisoning of one of his most outspoken critics, Alexei Navalny. Navalny has already acknowledged Biden’s win, also mentioning the privilege of a “fair and free election” in a Twitter post on November 8.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has received love from Trump in the past but was tight-lipped on Biden’s win. Erdoğan was accused by his opponents of a power grab after a 2017 referendum left him with few limits on his power, and has jailed hundreds of journalists.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won election based on plans to root out corruption and shift policies sharply to the left, but since taking office has threatened the media and been accused of using the military to solidify his power. Obrador has said in a press conference that he will not congratulate Biden until “all legal issues are resolved.” He has generally sought to strike a conciliatory tone with President Trump, amid a long dispute over migrants at the Mexican border.

The silence of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has been referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics” because of similarities in their backgrounds, messaging, and tone, is particularly striking. On November 6, Bolsonaro signaled that he was perhaps distancing himself from Trump as he called for “humility,” and said that Trump “is not the most important person in the world.” But Bolsonaro still hasn’t congratulated Biden.

Overall, it seems the world’s strongmen are still holding out hope that Trump, who cares little for human rights issues and gets along well with the dictators of the world, will somehow manage to stay in power — or at least, they don’t want to offend him while he’s still in office.

How long they will insist on living in denial, while the rest of the world moves on, remains to be seen.

Correction, November 12: An earlier version of this story included Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the list of leaders yet to congratulate Biden. Duterte released a statement congratulating Biden on November 8.

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