Australia may be cheering on Barack Obama but Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is taking a diplomatic line and won’t say who he favours in the US presidential race.

A study this week found Australians favour Obama, a 47-year-old senator from Illinois, by a margin of four to one over his 72-year-old Republican rival and Arizona senator John McCain.

But Rudd, who has spoken to both candidates in recent months, wasn’t buying into any debate about the next US president.

“The decision by the voters of America is to be done privately and independently by them in their great American democracy,” he told ABC Radio today.

“Australia will be well served by the victory of either candidate because both of these individuals, Senator McCain and Senator Obama, are first class candidates, they are positively disposed towards Australia.”

Australia’s strong alliance with the US is unlikely to falter under either an Obama or McCain administration but most observers see the changes to the relationship to be more about style than policy.

If his advisers are to be believed, an Obama administration could bring a greater focus back to the Asia-Pacific, a region which has felt neglected by the the US in recent years.

Obama advisers say they favour his participation in a key East Asian summit and the expansion of US alliances in the region.

The summit comprises leaders of the 10 ASEAN states – Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam – as well as Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

The United States has not been invited by ASEAN to join the East Asian summit because it has refused to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC), a non-aggression pact whose ratification is mandatory for a seat at the regional leaders’ meeting.

Frank Jannuzi, a senior Asia adviser to the Obama campaign, told AFP that he would advise an Obama administration to sign the TAC and participate in the East Asian summit.

“I don’t know whether Senator Obama as president will do that, but it will be my own personal recommendation,” said Jannuzi, an East Asia specialist in a US Senate foreign relations panel led by Obama’s running mate Senator Joseph Biden.

Robert Gelbard, another Obama adviser, also pushed for a US seat at the East Asian summit, expressing regret that the Bush administration had ignored Asian efforts to build a “regional architecture” over the last decade.

“We’ve left the terrain wide open for China and Russia as it’s moved forward,” he told a recent forum.

But US interest in the East Asia summit could spell trouble for Rudd’s proposed Asia Pacific Community, which is vying for attention among a crowded schedule of regional architecture.