Reactions around the world ranged following the news Thursday night that conservative hawk John Bolton will replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser. The appointment has sweeping implications for foreign policy, as well as U.S. attitudes towards issues like the Iran nuclear deal and tensions with North Korea. While governments in countries like Israel hailed the news, other reactions in the Middle East ranged from cautious to horrified. Across East Asia, commentators expressed concern. In Russia, meanwhile, the response was tight-lipped.
Here is a sampling of how the international community is receiving the news:
China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan
“‘Fasten your seat belts’: China hawk John Bolton replaces McMaster as Trump’s national security adviser,” read a piece in the South China Morning Post, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. The piece notes Bolton’s close ties with Taiwan and tough policies on China.
Experts in China expressed similar concern. Shi Yinhong, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing, told the Straits Times that Bolton’s appointment will make it harder for the United States and China to cooperate on security issues.
“What security cooperation with China can there be? Nuclear weapons, North Korea, Taiwan, South China Sea, cyberspace… Where is there hope for cooperation?” Shi asked.
Bolton has been an ardent supporter of diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, according to a 2001 investigation by the Washington Post, and was paid by the Taiwanese government before joining the Bush administration. Following his appointment, the Taiwan Times called Bolton “a friend of Taiwan” — noting his advice to the Trump administration to reconsider the “One China” policy, an agreement made in 1972 that essentially requires countries to choose between diplomatic relations with China or diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chinying has dismissed any changes to the One China policy despite Bolton’s appointment, according to Voice of America reporter Nike Ching.
“No matter who holds the post, the importance of China-US relations is self-evident and there will be no change, China and the US respect each other, focus on cooperation, properly handle their differences to achieve a win-win,” she said. She added that the Chinese government does not want to comment on Bolton’s appointment because it is the “internal affairs of the United States.”
A Taiwanese official also told Nike Ching that Taiwan “is not doing anything or saying anything yet” on Bolton’s appointment.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono said he was “a bit surprised” at the timing of the announcement.
Just two weeks earlier, the White House said that Trump would be meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for direct talks in May — an important diplomatic breakthrough. Bolton has repeatedly called for bombing North Korea, something that could throw a wrench in talks.
Kono said, however, that he did not expect Bolton’s appointment would seriously affect U.S. policy on North Korea. “During my recent visit to the U.S., members of the Trump administration seem to fully share consensus on policies,” he said. “So I believe there is no major change to their stance.”
Bolton is unpopular with South Korean officials, with whom he reportedly shares “very bad chemistry” following a history of hardline remarks and skepticism over potential talks between the United States and North Korea. South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has been encouraging the talks. Moon remained relatively quiet following reports of Bolton’s appointment, while aides tapered their responses.
“Bolton has much knowledge on the issues regarding the Korean peninsula and most of all, we know him to be one of the U.S. president’s aides who is trusted,” a senior official at South Korea’s presidential Blue House told reporters.
Others were less reserved. Conservative lawmaker Kim Hack-yong, who serves as head of the national defense committee for South Korea’s parliament, called the news “worrisome” and expressed concern.
“North Korea and the United States need to have dialogue but this only fuels worries over whether the talks will ever happen,” said Kim.
Bolton has referred to North Korea’s authoritarian government as “tyrannical” and called for the United States to launch a preemptive strike against the country. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has historically met Bolton’s sentiment in kind: the government has called Bolton “human scum” and refused to meet with him. As of Friday morning there was no word from Pyongyang regarding Bolton’s appointment.
Israel and Palestine
Reactions to Bolton’s appointment in Israel divided along partisan lines. Members of Israel’s hardline conservative government praised the decision, with Education Minister Naftali Bennett calling Bolton a “stalwart friend of Israel” and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked lauding him as a “true friend.”
“He has been, unquestionably, a friend of Israel for many years, including in his position as US ambassador to the UN,” Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin told a Tel Aviv radio station. “I have no doubt it will be comfortable for us to work with him.”
Not everyone was so pleased. Haaretz, the country’s leading progressive publication, highlighted Bolton’s lack of support for a two-state solution, as well as his anti-Palestinian rhetoric.
Hanan Ashrawi, an official on the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said that Bolton’s appointment “adds insult to injury.”
“This is unprecedented, this legal combination of hard-liners, Israel firsters, who are in charge of decision making in the U.S.,” Ashrawi said.
Bolton has repeatedly called for bombing Iran throughout the years, once arguing it was “really the most prudent thing to do.” He also has close ties to the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a fringe group led by Maryam Rajavi that was listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States until 2012 and is still considered a terrorist organization inside Iran. Even before 2012, Bolton spoke at MEK conferences and said he did not see his being paid “as an issue.”
That connection coupled with Bolton’s calls for war have sparked concern in Iran. Abbasali Kadkhodai, spokesperson for Iran’s Guardian Council, said on his Telegram channel that the news of Bolton’s appointment was “short but meaningful,” according to BBC Persian.
“John Bolton, American sponsor of the hypocrites, has gotten the highest political post in Trump’s totalitarian government,” he said. “Today, this is a fundamental question of why an extreme American politician is hired for such a sensitive post, while he regularly sat down with Rajavi’s terrorist cult and is known as a ruthless supporter of this group. Can it be believed that these are all coincidences?”
Iranian media expressed similar concerns. With Bolton’s appointment, “the alarm of danger has rung in Asia,” read one piece in Fars News. A piece in Iranian state broadcaster IRIB noted that Bolton’s appointment was his “new chance” to destroy the Iranian nuclear deal — as he has repeatedly called to scrap the agreement.
A spokesperson for Turkey’s foreign ministry responded to the appointments of both Bolton and Mike Pompeo, who is replacing Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, with carefully-worded comments.
“We hope these changes of duty will be a means to further strengthen the continuing efforts to solve the problems that have existed between our countries for a long time,” a statement read.
Bolton seemingly breaks with President Trump in his views towards Russia, criticizing the country’s alleged role in attempting to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and taking a hardline stance on the issue. That position might seem odd — the outgoing McMaster drew Trump’s ire after calling evidence of Russian interference “incontrovertible” — and it’s unclear what it will mean for U.S.-Russia relations. The Russian government offered a vague, non-committal response when asked about the implications of the appointment.
“That is not a question for us, it is for the U.S. administration,” said a spokesperson for the Kremlin.