Boris Johnson as foreign secretary – the world reacts

Raised eyebrows, horror and amusement. Just three of the myriad reactions by political leaders and
the press from around the world to the appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. Here’s what some of them had to say.


Helen Roxburgh reports from Shanghai

“He will struggle to be taken seriously abroad, given his record of gaffes”

News that Boris Johnson was the new UK foreign secretary was greeted with both horror and amusement across Asia.

China has been fascinated by the UK’s Brexit saga, with the state-owned Global Times describing it as an example of the ‘dangers of democracy’.

The China Daily admitted being “stunned” by the appointment of the “flamboyant” Johnson, a disapproving Shanghai Daily referred to him as “shaggy-haired, Latin-spouting Boris Johnson, who has made insulting and vulgar comments”, while the South China Morning Post spoke of “shock and awe”.

One less than enthusiastic Weibo user summed up the mood with a baffled: “What are they doing?”, while another agreed “I can hardly bear to watch it unfold.”

Johnson has touted China credentials before, including climbing the sacred Buddhist Mount Emei in Sichuan as a student, and supporting his daughter in studying Mandarin.

But he has also irritated the Chinese more than once. At a reception for the Beijing Olympics, he insisted ping pong was invented in Britain, not China, and was accused of being “rude, arrogant and disrespectful” for accepting the Olympic flag with one hand.

This lack of cultural awareness is flagged as a concern across the continent. “He will struggle to be taken seriously abroad, given his record of gaffes,” warned news channel Asia One.

However, there’s a hope that his appointment will benefit emerging Asia trade routes.

The Indian press celebrated that trade with India featured highly in Johnson’s Brexit campaign, and pointed out that his wife is part-Indian. The India Express said he would be an “India-friendly” foreign minister.

But there remains plenty of despair. “No-one in British journalism or politics has been prepared to call Johnson what he really is,” said The Hindustan Times. “An unblushing racist, whose talk of the glories of colonialism should have made him unemployable long ago.”


Nathan Cross reports from Brisbane

“If Theresa May is the ringmaster, Boris Johnson is the travelling circus”

In Australia, news that new British prime minister Theresa May had appointed Boris Johnson as foreign secretary was met with more than a raised eyebrow.

Headlines shouting “shock choice” and “astonishing comeback” summed up the tone, with the impression that Johnson’s political ambitions had been abruptly halted following the Brexit vote.

National newspaper The Australian described Johnson as “gaffe-prone”, while the Sydney Morning Herald said: “If Theresa May is the ringmaster, Boris Johnson is the travelling circus.”

Australia is no stranger to colourful politicians. Deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s international feud with Hollywood celebrity Johnny Depp over the illegal importation of his soon-to-be ex-wife Amber Heard’s two pet terriers is a recent memorable incident.

But Britain’s Johnson towers over any Aussie politician when it comes to international embarrassment.

The country’s media took the news as an opportunity to highlight the former London mayor’s key blunders.

ABC News listed Johnson’s “offensive poetry” charging Turkey’s leader with bestiality, and a “part Kenyan” Barack Obama among the highlights (or lowlights).

And even the Australian Financial Review got in on the act, describing Johnson as “the most undiplomatic diplomat… ever”.

But the reaction hasn’t been all bad. Australians do love an irreverent attitude, particularly when directed at those in authority.

There’s also an impression that his appointment could be beneficial to the country as Britain seeks to strike new trade agreements following its exit from the European Union.

Two years ago, Johnson was recognised with an Australia Day Foundation award for campaigning to create visa-free labour and migrant movement between the two countries.

Hinting at this potentially advantageous relationship, perhaps the most supportive comment to come out of Australia was from former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who tweeted: “Good to see Boris Johnson as the new UK foreign secretary. He’s a good friend of Australia”.


Lauren Herstik reports from Los Angeles

“One of Britain’s most colourful and unpredictable politicians”

With the news of Boris Johnson’s selection as the new UK foreign secretary, Americans of all ranks strained to keep a straight face.

Mark Toner, Department of State deputy spokesperson, managed to maintain a consummate professionalism upon receiving the news, though he did crack a smile when asked: “Is this someone the secretary thinks he’ll be able to work with given his previous positions?”

Toner confirmed secretary John Kerry and the State Department were committed to working with the British minister, “no matter who is occupying the role of foreign secretary”.

Secretary Kerry found himself in a similar position at Johnson’s first press conference in London, which Foreign Policy magazine described as “excruciatingly awkward.”

Johnson faced questions from American journalists recalling his long history of public insults.

Brad Klapper of the Associated Press enumerated the more egregious entries: Johnson has referred to president Barack Obama’s “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” and has described Hillary Clinton as having “dyed blonde hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”.

Secretary Kerry did describe Johnson as “a very smart and capable man”, to which Johnson replied: “I can live with that.”

Secretary Kerry reminded his counterpart: “It’s called ‘diplomacy’, Boris.”

The Washington Post released an explainer: “How Boris Johnson became Britain’s top diplomat, despite having offended much of the world.”

The New York Times counted “seven times Boris Johnson, Britain’s new foreign secretary, was anything but diplomatic,” while the Wall Street Journal chronicled an “unlikely hero-to-zero-to-hero ride for Mr Johnson, one of Britain’s most colourful and unpredictable politicians”.

US voters are dealing with a similarly characterised candidate in the form of Donald Trump, formally recognised as the Republican Party nominee for president on July 19 at the party’s national convention in Cleveland, OH.

They turn a wary eye towards the UK as Johnson moves forward in the position, looking for any indication of what’s to come should their own “colourful and unpredictable politician” come into power.

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