BEIJING — People around the world closely followed the bitter U.S. midterm elections that put part of Congress in Republican control, as speculation rose Wednesday about the potential impact to U.S. foreign policy.
President Barack Obama's ability to maneuver politically has been weakened after Democrats lost control of the U.S. House of Representatives, analysts said, though it remains unclear how much U.S. policies might change with Republicans leading that chamber. Democrats, the party to which Obama belongs, managed to maintain their Senate majority in Tuesday's vote.
The results could undermine many of Obama's international policies, such as forcing him to adopt a stronger pro-Israel position and a tougher stand against China in trade and currency issues, said Chandra Muzaffar, president of a Malaysian thinktank, International Movement for a Just World.
"It's not a major setback, but it's a setback," Chandra said. "It's unfortunate. ... He may decide to stay the course rather than succumb to the pressures that have built up in America ... (but) it's obvious that lobbies and special interests have gained the upper hand."
China's interest in the elections was high, with extensive coverage topping most leading Internet news portals.
Portals such as Sina.com and QQ.com all hosted special pages laden with special graphics tracking up-to-the-minute voting, analysis, and reactions from Democrats and Republicans.
Xiong Zhiyong, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University who specializes in China-US relations, said he worried about the election's fallout on the U.S.-China relationship, which has been marked by tensions over trade and currency, among other issues. With the U.S. economy still in decline, China has become an easy target for American politicians, he said.
"Inside the U.S., the Republicans have been attacking Obama's recovery policies. And the Obama administration has been unable to come up with an effective solution to save the economy. All that being considered, it is easier to accuse China of making that mess," he said.
During election campaigning, China-bashing was quite popular among U.S. candidates, he said.
"That's what the candidates have been doing during the election, because it's easier and it tends to cover up their inability to help the U.S. economy recover," he said.
In Indonesia, where Obama spent part of his childhood, his former classmates and neighbors said they were sorry to see the tide turning in Washington, but expressed confidence he could still make a difference.
Many Indonesians hoped Obama's experience in their country would help bridge ties between the West and the Muslim world and influence policy in the Middle East.
"It will be harder for him, yes," said Sonni Gondokusumo, a former neighbor and playmate. "But he's not going to give up. He's going to keep struggling because this isn't just what's best for the world but for Americans. He still has two years to prove himself."
Some analysts said they think the election results are more likely to change domestic policy than foreign policy.
"Policies on Afghanistan and Iraq are unlikely to change; they are already on course," said political analyst Anies Baswedanhe. "The same is true with U.S.-Indonesian relations."
With less bargaining power in Congress, Obama would have a harder time brokering a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine, said analyst Christianto Wibisono.
"And as long as there is no peace between Israel and Palestine, things aren't going to go smoothly in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Zalman Shoval, a Netanyahu confidant and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said the election results marked a vote of no confidence in Obama — but he doubted the change in Congress would influence U.S.-Israel relations and the U.S.-led peace process.
"Foreign policy is the prerogative of the president, even if he is weak," said Shoval.
However, longtime U.S. allies Japan and Australia pledged that election results will not change their traditionally close ties with Washington.
"Whatever the election results are, Japan-U.S. ties and our cooperation as part of the international society will not change," said Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's office called the partnership "strong and deep, and transcends party politics."
Associated Press writers Ali Kotarumalos and Irwan Firdaus in Jakarta, Indonesia; Shino Yuasa in Tokyo; Amy Teibel in Jerusalem; and Julia Zappei in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.
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