Adrian Hamilton: Asia has little interest in a 'new dawn'

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The Independent Online

In South-East Asia during the past week, what impressed most was not the enthusiasm for the US elections but the lack of it. The campaign barely rated a few pictures and a single column report.

Lack of interest? Not really. It was a reflection of the huge divide between how America continues to see itself – along with the Europeans – and how it is seen by the majority in the rest of the world. The racial "first" and the electoral clash that has so impressed audiences on the two sides of the Atlantic mean little to most of the world, particularly in Asia, the most racist of all regions.

The idea that a fresh face in the White House will automatically make the non-white world feel they have a new champion in Washington is strong in the West and almost absent elsewhere.

Barack Obama may talk, and genuinely believe, that "a new dawn of American leadership is at hand". Would that it were. But the hard fact is that for large parts of the world a "new dawn of American leadership" is the last thing they are looking for. The policies of President Bush have disabused them of that idea.

Mr Obama can do something to reverse this. His youth, his colour, his opposition to the Iraq war will do that almost without policy change. But he cannot – and maybe won't even try – to reverse the impression that the US is now ordinary, one of a number of major powers exceptional only in its military expenditure. For most of Asia, America has become a distant power to whom they look for little and expect less. Their publics will love the new family in the White House. But he should leave words such as "leadership" back home. They're not wanted on the new voyage.

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