Presidential Debate Perspectives from Asia
Presidential Debate Perspectives from Asia

By Michael Martina and Nobuhiro Kubo (Reuters)

Hillary Clinton put Donald Trump on the defensive and showed a better grasp of foreign policy issues, according to a sampling of people across Asia who watched the fiery first U.S. presidential debate.

In China, the debate was streamed live on China's Twitter-like Weibo service and attracted thousands of comments despite the lack of a translation into Chinese. 

Some called Trump "a loose cannon", while others thought that as a businessman he was best qualified to lead the world's largest economy.

William Hua, a Chinese lawyer who watched the debate at an American Chamber of Commerce event in Beijing, said he thought Clinton came out on top.

He was most concerned, though, about an issue that didn't come up in the debate. "Donald Trump says Japan and South Korea can develop nuclear weapons? It seems absolutely ridiculous," Hua said.

Trump said in an interview with The New York Times in March he would consider letting Japan and South Korea build their own nuclear weapons, rather than rely on America for protection against North Korea.

Opinion polls have shown the two candidates in a tight race leading up to the debate.

A CNN poll of debate watchers released after the event found 62 percent felt Clinton won compared to 27 percent for Trump.

In a sign investors also saw Clinton as the winner, U.S. S&P500 stock futures rose as did Asian shares. "Markets started to call the debate for Hillary within the first 15 minutes or so, with the Mexican peso surging in what is probably its busiest Asian session in years," said Sean Callow, a senior currency analyst at Westpac in Sydney.

The Mexican currency has risen and fallen in recent weeks depending on polling numbers for Trump, who has vowed to take trade protectionist measure against the United States' southern neighbor and build a wall across the U.S. border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration.

China Bashing

Trump raised eyebrows among a packed crowd watching the debate at The American Club in Singapore when he lashed out against China.

"Look at what China is doing to our country," Trump said not long after the debate began. "They are devaluing their currency and we have nobody in our government to fight them ... They are using our country as a piggy bank to rebuild China, and many other countries are doing the same thing."

Landy Eng, a former employee of the California state government who's been living in Singapore the past 20 years, said he was an undecided voter. "But Trump's China-bashing is something I'm not particularly in favor of," he said.

Still, Eng said he does like the "disruptive" factor of Trump's campaign and thinks it is making Clinton a better candidate.

Aloysius Lee, a 65-year-old retiree from Hong Kong, who watched the debate at The Foreign Correspondents' Club in the territory, said that Trump was too unpredictable.

"Hillary is the kind of person you can do business with, at least from my point of view," Lee said. With Trump, "you don't know what's going to happen next, you don't know what he's going to say next".

North Asia Alliances

South Koreans, watching the debate on TV screens in the lobby of Seoul's central train station, said they were with Clinton on the issues.

"Trump has ideas of withdrawing U.S. forces from our country, and in terms of national security, Trump is a threatening figure," said Lee Hyo-jin, 26. "So I support Hillary," she said.

Trump during the debate again said if U.S. allies like Japan and South Korea "don't pay their fair share, they may have to defend themselves or help us out."

Asked about Trump's comment, Japan's Defence Minister Tomomi Inada told a regularly scheduled news conference on Tuesday the U.S.-Japan military alliance does not just benefit Japan "but is also in the interests of the United States."

Clinton seemed to have the better temperament during the debate, according to some Asian viewers.

Li Jiaoli, 21, an editing intern from China's southwestern province of Sichuan, said Clinton seemed more presidential while Trump's expressions made her laugh.

"Trump's responses were too aggressive. High-level politicians should have more self-control," Li said.

Debate Optics

The debate prompted a storm of tweets around the region, many of them commenting on the optics of the debate.

"Trump is looking worked up and angry and sulky and shouty -She looks utterly in control by contrast," said Barkha Dutt, news anchor on India's NDTV in a tweet. "She ignores his barbs & attacks; he gets baited by every one of hers."

Mel Fryer, 30, a waitress at the Mercantile Hotel in Sydney's historic Rocks district said she was "terrified" at the prospect of a Trump presidency, while the debate screened to an empty pub. "But he's going ok," she said of his debate performance. "He uses simple words and simple phrases and gets his point across."







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Politics: "Presidential Debate Perspectives from Asia"