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In numbers – Australia’s changing attitudes towards China

Australians are increasingly concerned about military confrontation with China, according to new data, which confirms a fundamental shift in attitudes towards the communist republic.

Australians are increasingly concerned about military confrontation with China, according to new data, which confirms a fundamental shift in attitudes towards the communist republic.

New findings from the Lowy Institute Poll 2021 suggest growing hostility between Canberra and Beijing has filtered through to the general public, with more Australians mindful of the security threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-led regime.

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The research — which involved a national survey of 2,222 Australian adults over the second half of March – found that trust in China has slumped to a record low, with just 16 per cent of respondents stating they trust China ‘a great deal’ or ‘somewhat’ to act responsibly on the world stage, down from 52 per cent three years prior. 

In comparison, an overwhelming 87 per cent of Australians trust the UK and Japan to act responsibly, while 61 per cent express the same trust in the United States, up from 51 per cent last year.

Just 10 per cent of respondents said they have ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ of confidence in China’s President, Xi Jinping, to ‘do the right thing regarding world affairs’.

Confidence in the CCP’s chief has more than halved from 22 per cent in 2020, and is down a staggering 33 percentage points from 2018,

Perceptions of President Xi among the Australian public are in sharp juxtaposition to his main strategic rival, US President Joe Biden, who according to the Lowy research, inspires confidence in 69 per cent of Australians.

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Accordingly, an overwhelming majority of Australians (78 per cent) believe the nation’s longstanding security alliance with the US is either ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’, with three-quarters (75 per cent) of respondents expecting the Americans to come to Australia’s aid in the event of a conflict.

The threat of a military confrontation with China is a mounting concern for Australians, the Lowy Institute research reports, with 56 per cent of respondents viewing the deterioration in Australia-China relations as a critical threat.

Most Australians (52 per cent) also believe a military conflict between the US and China over Taiwan poses a critical threat to Australia, up 17 percentage points from 2020.

Interestingly, when asked how Australia should respond to military confrontation between the US and China, 57 per cent said Australia should ‘remain neutral’, while 41 per cent said the nation should rally in support of the US.

Just 1 per cent of respondents said Australia should back Beijing.

Fewer respondents believe Australia can manage a relationship with both the US and China (72 per cent), down from 87 per cent in 2013.

The finding that perhaps best encapsulates the shift in attitudes towards China is that 63 per cent of Australians now view China as ‘more of a security threat’, a 22 percentage point spike from 2020 — while only 34 per cent believe China is ‘more of an economic partner, down 21 percentage points over the same period.

Just 47 per cent of respondents now claim China’s economic growth has a positive influence on their overall perception of the country, down 28 percentage points since 2016.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia's future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia's political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch with [email protected], [email protected], or at [email protected].   

Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.

In numbers – Australia’s changing attitudes towards China
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