International observers

Times Staff Writer

To many Asians, the U.S. electoral system is a mystery, the candidates have strange names, and it's not always clear how they view Asia's interests.

China has learned that, no matter what they say in the campaign, U.S. presidents eventually engage with Beijing, given its growing clout. "So this election doesn't worry us so much," said Tao Wenzhao, professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

At street level, Hillary Clinton is probably the best known candidate. "Electing a woman would be real, real good," said saleswoman Zhu Yanyan, 26, giving a thumbs up.

Few seem to be following the Republican race, and those who are say it lacks drama. "My impression is, they're mostly a bunch of white guys," said He Chao, 22, a medical student at Nanjing's Soochow University. "There's nothing new."

In Indonesia, it's all Barack Obama. "Obama is considered one of us because he was here when he was a child, he had an Indonesian stepfather, and he knows how to speak Indonesian," said Rizal Mallarangeng, a political commentator. (David Axelrod, Obama's campaign strategist and friend, confirmed that he does speak a bit of the language.)

The race has done a lot to soften America's image in the world's most populous Muslim nation, Mallarangeng said.

Japan is watching for signs of its greatest fear: being ignored by its only real ally. There's little love lost in many sake bars for Clinton, whose husband was perceived as favoring China. This fear was only reinforced by her recent Foreign Affairs piece that cited China as America's most important bilateral relationship.

India also is cool toward Clinton, because her husband is thought to have favored China and Pakistan at India's expense. "She's viewed as a co-president of Bill," said Lawrence W. Prabhakar, a political science professor at Madras Christian College.

The Philippines has its own interest in Clinton's campaign. "We want to see if perhaps Mrs. Clinton could do better than Presidents [Corazon] Aquino and [Gloria Macapagal] Arroyo, because we Filipinos have learned our lesson with female heads of state," said Neal H. Cruz, a columnist with Manila's Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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The U.S. presidential campaign is being followed closely around the globe, often with a sense of excitement about the democratic process -- and admiration, in many places, that a woman and an African American could be vying for the nomination of a major political party. And there appears to be something close to consensus that whoever wins the election, the next occupant of the White House will probably be more amenable to working with international leaders than President Bush has been. Times foreign correspondents assessed the mood in four regions where the U.S. campaign is viewed through decidedly local lenses.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

Contributors: Cathy Gao and Yin Lijin in Beijing, Sol Vanzi in the Philippines, Bruce Wallace in Afghanistan, Paul Watson in Indonesia and Maria La Ganga with the Obama campaign in Albuquerque.

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