Views on China harden in Australia as relations plummet: Lowy Institute poll

A new poll shows Australians' attitudes towards China have grown bleaker. Picture: Shutterstock
A new poll shows Australians' attitudes towards China have grown bleaker. Picture: Shutterstock

Australians have hardened in their views on China, as a new poll shows more perceive the regional power as a threat than an economic partner.

The Lowy Institute's latest annual survey of views about foreign affairs also reveal most Australians would want their nation to remain neutral in a conflict between the United States and China.

Nearly two thirds of respondents in the think tank's poll said they viewed China as a security threat, up more than 20 points from 41 per cent last year.

For the first time, more Australians believed the regional power was a threat than an economic partner to the nation, and more saw China's economic growth as a negative than a positive.

Trust in China fell to a new record low, as only 16 per cent of survey respondents said they trusted it to act responsibly in the world, down seven points from 2020 and a third of the figure three years ago.

The results follow a further deterioration in relations between the two nations last year, when China imposed trade tariffs on Australian exporters and released a list of grievances against Australia.

Lowy Institute public opinion and foreign policy program director Natasha Kassam said the results showed Australians' views towards China had hardened in the last year.

Trust in China had been on a downward trend since bilateral relations began declining in 2017.

The risk of war over Taiwan has become more prominent in the minds of Australians.

Natasha Kassam

"Australians now see China's growth as having a negative influence on their views. For the past decade Australia has seen China's economic development as our largest trading partner as a source of our economic prosperity and as a positive," Ms Kassam said.

"But after a year of sanctions placed on Australian businesses by China, that has clearly shifted."

Ms Kassam said it was unusual for views about nations to decline so dramatically over a short time period.

"Both the speed and the intensity are quite remarkable and point to a really significant shift in public awareness about China."

Ten per cent of Australians had confidence in Chinese president Xi Jinping to do the right thing regarding world affairs.

Only North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (5 per cent) scored lower.

The Lowy Institute poll also showed more Australians viewed a military conflict between the US and China over Taiwan as a critical threat to Australia over the next decade, Ms Kassam said.

"The risk of war over Taiwan has clearly become more prominent in the minds of Australians," she said.

More than half of respondents (57 per cent) said Australia should remain neutral in a conflict between the US and China, while 41 per cent said Australia should support the US.

Australians in recent years had become less willing to deploy the military overseas, Ms Kassam said.

The election of US president Joe Biden last year has improved Australians' views about its largest ally, the Lowy Institute poll shows.


Seven in ten survey respondents said they had confidence in President Biden, about 40 points higher than the result for Donald Trump last year.

While more Australians than last year said they trusted the US to act responsibly, the figure had not recovered to pre-Trump levels.

Ms Kassam said the result could reflect dismay at the US' handling of the Covid pandemic, however there was more confidence in the nation's trajectory since the election.

Australians feel more confident about Australia's economy and their safety in 2021 compared to last year's poll, taken during the Covid economic downturn.

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This story Views on China harden as relations plummet first appeared on The Canberra Times.


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