U.S. election a hot topic among Chinese youth

(CBS News) BEIJING - Pollsters and pundits are not the only ones trying to anticipate the outcome of Tuesday's election.

The presidential campaign has also captured the attention of people in countries around the globe.

Young people crowded into a cafe for a very popular event: The last U.S. presidential debate. And the cafe is in Beijing.

Millions of young Chinese like university student Wang Hanyi are engrossed with the American presidential election.

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"We'd just like to know what's happening on the other side of the world. We are living in a social media era and it's much easier to get such information," Wang said.

CBS News spoke with Wang and two other self-proclaimed political junkies: Zhan Wu, a student, and Liu Jinyang, a journalist.

Liu called the American election "open, energetic."

That is unlike Chinese politics. Two days after the U.S. picks a president, China picks new rulers by a Communist Party process that's secretive and byzantine. The American process is wide open and accessible - even here in China - on the internet.

Guan Xin, a 29-year-old English teacher, is like an internet political pied piper. From his apartment in northern China he downloads and translates American campaign speeches and debates to feed a growing online community of followers. He got tens-of-millions of hits during the conventions.

"They want to look with their own eyes, listen with their own ears and make their own judgment," Guan said.

They don't like that China comes in for so much criticism, like when Mitt Romney said he'll "label China a currency manipulator on day one," and when President Obama said "we're going to insist that china play by the same rules as everybody else."

Student Zhan Wu said: "The U.S. is always the fastest in the world and they suddenly find, 'Oh China is behind me, and he's catching up and running faster and faster.'"

But they do like that Americans get to challenge and choose their leaders.

"They can openly question and discuss political problems," Liu said.

"People are all watching it. It's like a party for the whole nation," said Wang, adding that "it's gonna take some time," before similar openness happens in China.

But this type of conversation couldn't have happened a generation ago, and that is what these young people call progress.

  • Bill Whitaker

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