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June 24, 2013

Poll Shows Australians Wary of China

by Phil Mercer

A new poll released Monday indicated that more than 40 percent of Australians think China will become a military threat in the coming decades.  The annual study from the independent research organization, the Lowy Institute, also finds that many Australians believe their government is allowing too much Chinese investment.  Despite these fears, the poll also shows that Australians say they appreciate how important trade is with China. 

The survey shows that attitudes towards China among many Australians are cooling.  There is suspicion about a potential military threat and wariness about growing Chinese investment in Australia.   

But the survey by the Sydney-based Lowy Institute highlights a complex bilateral relationship.  The annual poll details a deep appreciation by respondents of China’s part in Australia’s prosperity.  Chinese demand for natural resources, mostly notably iron ore, has insulated the Australian economy from the worst of the global financial crisis.  China is Australia’s biggest trading partner.

Alex Oliver, a research fellow at the Lowy Institute, says despite a lucrative trade relationship, there is mistrust in Australia towards China.

“The majority of Australians say the Australian government allows too much investment from China, and a significant minority, and this is really interesting given that China is now Australia’s largest trading partner, think that China is likely to become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years.  So that is a wary relationship, it is an ambivalent relationship and it is going to be complicated for any government to resolve," said Oliver.  

Around 1,000 people were quizzed by the Lowy Institute about their attitudes to foreign policy and other countries. 

More than 60 percent of respondents say they believe China will eventually replace the United States as the world's leading superpower, while 12 percent say it already has.

According to the poll, the long-standing military alliance with the U.S. remains Australia’s most significant international relationship.

Australians consider their ties with Britain, Ireland, Germany and the United States to be the most valuable, while the most mistrusted relationships are with Indonesia, Israel, Burma, Iran and North Korea.

The survey also found that the majority of respondents believe Australia’s conservative opposition would manage the nation’s international affairs, including asylum seekers and security, better than the center-left government.

Australians vote in a federal election in September.