Confidence in China has plunged to new lows in Australia, with more than 60% of those polled recently saying they saw the country as a security threat rather than an economic partner, and just 16% saying that they trusted Beijing to act responsibly in the world.
- Only 10% of respondents believed Chinese President Xi Jinping “would do the right thing” in international affairs
- Most of those polled blamed China for deteriorating relations with Australia
- Confidence in the United States has increased 10% since last year, but is still 20% lower than it was during Barrack Obama’s presidency
There has also been a surge in confidence in the United States, with seven in ten respondents expressing confidence in US President Joe Biden, almost 40 points higher than former President Donald Trump.
But there is little appetite for Australia to join a regional military conflict, with more than half of those polled saying Australia should “stay neutral” if there is a war between China and the states. -United.
The results are contained in the Lowy Institute’s 2021 survey of Australians’ attitudes to the world, with more than 2,200 Australians polled in March.
Natasha Kassam, of the Lowy Institute, said there had been a “dramatic” collapse in goodwill towards China since 2018, when only 12% of those polled saw Beijing as a security threat more than a partner. economic.
“The endless list of bilateral irritants and worrying stories – from the crackdown in Hong Kong to the detention of Uyghurs, sanctions against Australian industries and the plight of Australian citizens in China – has driven the relationship and public perception. at the lowest, she told ABC.
The survey showed that only 10% of those polled were convinced that Chinese President Xi Jinping “would do the right thing about global affairs” – a figure that has fallen by 33 points since 2018.
“We could certainly call it a radical change,” Ms. Kassam said.
“We see numbers for Xi Jinping that are comparable to how Australians see [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un.
“Last year when I was asked about these results [on China] I didn’t think they could fall any further, and yet here we are. “
Respondents were also quick to blame China for the deterioration in bilateral relations between the two countries, with 56 percent of those polled saying China carried more responsibility.
Another 38 percent said Australia and China were also to blame, while just 4 percent said Australia was more to blame.
Confidence in the US rebounds, but still falls short of the Obama years
In contrast, there has been a modest upturn in confidence in the United States. Just over 60% of those polled told Lowy that they trust the United States, an increase of 10 points from last year.
Ms Kassam said confidence in the United States has not rebounded as strongly as it did in 2009 when Barack Obama took over the presidency and 83% of those polled told Lowy they trusted the United States .
“There is still some delay in the way Australians are warming up in the United States, both because of President Trump’s legacy but also because of the COVID-19 tragedy last year,” she declared.
“Almost all Australians agree that the United States has not handled the pandemic well and I think that continues to inform their point of view.”
Yet confidence in the US-Australia alliance remains high.
Of those polled, 78% said the alliance was important to the country’s security, while 76% said the two countries shared common values.
And 75 percent said they believe the United States will stand up for Australia if Australia comes under attack.
Only 36% of those polled said the alliance was losing its importance because the United States was in relative decline compared to China. This is a decrease of 10 points compared to 2019.
“These growing concerns about China have really brought Australia closer to the United States when it comes to the country’s security, defense and safety,” Ms. Kassam said.
Ms Kassam said there had been a clear change since 2016, when the Lowy Institute poll found respondents were unsure whether the country’s future rests with the United States or China.
“In 2016, if you asked Australians if our relationship with the United States or China was more important, it was a stalemate. The country was split 50-50,” she said.
“This is certainly not the case today, with sour sentiment towards China and [at] the timing is heating up in the United States. I have a feeling that maybe Australia has to choose a side, and the public recognizes that. “
But support for the alliance does not translate into enthusiasm for a war between the two great powers.
Fifty-seven percent of those polled said Australia should remain neutral in the event of a conflict between the United States and China, although a substantial minority – 41 percent – said Australia should support the United States.
Only 1% said Australia should support China.
But concerns about the conflict over Taiwan have also risen sharply.
Just over half of those polled said a military conflict between the United States and China poses a critical threat to Australia – a 17% increase from last year.
COVID-19 threat drops, economic confidence rises
Ms Kassam said the results were not surprising and that several surveys had shown that most respondents did not want to be drawn into a war with China.
“We have consistently seen low levels of support for military deployment in a hypothetical scenario involving China,” she said.
“And I think most Australians agree that despite the frosty relationship, China is still Australia’s biggest trading partner.”
The poll also shows that broader confidence in Australia’s security has rebounded from record lows set in last year’s poll.
Of those polled, 70% said they felt “very safe” or “safe,” up 20% from 2020. This year, 59% said they considered COVID-19 as a critical threat, up from 76% in 2020.
Economic confidence has also increased significantly, with 79% of respondents saying they are “optimistic” or “very optimistic” about Australia’s economic performance globally – a jump of 27 points from 2020.