The foreign press greeted news of the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years with dismay and bemusement, but little surprise. From Russia to India to England, newspapers zeroed in on partisan polarization as the root of the budget impasse, citing possible impacts on world markets, security, and tourism.
Asian markets held steady at the news of the shutdown on Tuesday, as global investors were already anticipating the Congressional stalemate. However, world commentators are beginning to worry Congressional gridlock will bring down other fragile economic recoveries with them.
India: The Indian press had strong feelings about the shutdown. “World holds breath as US government shutdown imminent,” The Times of India reported. Its business paper, The Economic Times, took a different tack: “US faces shutdown, ‘fiscal cliff’: It’s advantage India?” But don’t forget the home front: “Forget US shutdown, India might be on the verge of a shutdown,” fretted Shishir Asthana in the Business Standard. Indian business executives also told the Voice of America they could not understand how a developed country like the U.S. could shut down its government because of a legislative impasse.
China: China’s state-run Xinhua news agency warned tourists heading to America that popular destinations, such as national parks and monuments in Washington, D.C., might be closed. The Voice of America, noting that “the news of the shutdown was covered extensively by domestic media throughout Asia on Tuesday,” collated Chinese reactions that ranged from worried to almost comically optimistic. VoA interviewed Professor Chen Qi at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, who “opined that if this had happened in another country, it might be more problematic, but he trusts that the maturity of the U.S. government and American politicians will ‘have the wisdom to come to a consensus and solve this issue smoothly,’ especially since they have been down this road numerous times previously.”
The United Kingdom: The British press, known for its arch reactions to crises, didn’t disappoint. “America shuts down,” blared The Daily Mail, Britain’s most notorious tabloid. “David Cameron warns on world growth as US government shuts down,” The Independent reported. “It is a risk to the world economy if the US can’t properly sort out its spending plans,” Cameron told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday.
But perhaps the harshest coverage came from the stolid BBC. In a piece titled “US shutdown has other nations confused and concerned,” Anthony Zurcher wrote, “For most of the world, a government shutdown is very bad news – the result of revolution, invasion or disaster. Even in the middle of its ongoing civil war, the Syrian government has continued to pay its bills and workers’ wages. That leaders of one of the most powerful nations on earth willingly provoked a crisis that suspends public services and decreases economic growth is astonishing to many…Now, as the latest shutdown crisis plays out, policymakers in other nations are left to ponder the worldwide impact of the impasse.”
Russia: The state-run media, naturally, had a field day. The Moscow Times, an independent paper, summarized the reaction: “The budgetary battle made headlines in Russian media on Monday. “The ‘Elephants’ Are Robbing the U.S. Government,” read a headline in the government-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta, referring to the symbol for the Republican Party. The state television broadcaster Vesti cautioned, “The U.S. government may be left penniless on Tuesday.” The Times itself worried about the effect of “federal government without money” on “the issuance of U.S. visas to Russians or support to cosmonauts on the International Space Station.”
Germany: The German press erupted in criticism for American politicians on Tuesday. Der Spiegel Online proclaimed, “A superpower has paralyzed itself,” while The Welt predicted “fatal consequences” that could damage the U.S. recovery. The Zeit newspaper blamed a “handful of radicals,” stating, “A small group of uncompromising Republican ideologues in the House of Representatives are principally responsive for this disaster. They are not only taking their own party to the brink, but the whole country. Unfortunately the leadership of this party has neither had the courage nor the backbone to put them in their place.”
France: France’s Le Monde called the shutdown “grotesque” and noted that American cemeteries in France will be closed. On the editorial page, Le Monde dramatically lamented, “Jefferson, wake up, they’ve gone crazy!”
Italy: Italy, mired in its own financial and political crisis, warned against the U.S. shutdown’s serious economic consequences. The newspaper Corriere della Sera called the shutdown a huge blow to U.S. and global economic recovery, noting that sequestration has already done significant damage to Washington in particular.
South Korea: Seoul paper Chosun Ilbo ran a story assuring Koreans that the U.S. will not reduce its military presence in South Korea despite budgetary upheaval at home. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is on a four day trip to South Korea, acknowledged that the Pentagon was under pressure to cut spending, but would maintain the 28,500 troops in South Korea regardless.
Global media may be less than shocked at this shutdown after watching Congress push the nation to the brink of economic collapse during the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations. At the time, foreign editorial pages lit up with criticism, denigrating Congress as “dangerously irresponsible” and “a laughing stock.” We can be thankful for one thing: not one of these papers covered the government shutdown as brutally as the American press would have if it were happening in another country.