Australians’ Trust in China Hits New Low as Relations Worsen

Australians’ trust in China has dropped to a record low as more people perceive the nation as a security threat than an economic partner, according to a survey released Tuesday. Trust in the U.S., meanwhile, has risen amid higher levels of confidence in President Joe Biden than his predecessor.

Only 16% of respondents said they trust China to act responsibly in the world, down from 52% in 2018, the annual Lowy Institute Poll showed. Just 10% said they have confidence in China’s President Xi Jinping to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” from 22% last year.

Xi’s China Is ‘Dogged by Insecurity,’ Australian Diplomat Says

In contrast, 69% have confidence in Biden, 39 percentage points higher than the support given to then President Donald Trump last year. Some 61% said they trust the U.S., up 10 points from last year.

Australians’ Trust in China Hits New Low as Relations Worsen

“In 2015, the majority of Australians didn’t know who Xi Jinping was,” Natasha Kassam, director of the institute’s Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Program, said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Wednesday. “And now we can see that they know who he is, and they have very little confidence in him.”

The slide in public perceptions of China mirrors the marked decline in diplomatic ties between the two nations. Relations have frayed since 2018, when Australia barred Huawei Technologies Co. from building its 5G network, and went into freefall last year as Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus that first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Beijing has responded with a volley of punitive trade actions that have hit commodities from coal to barley, lobsters and wine.

“The past few years have had an endless list of bilateral irritants between Australia and China,” Kassam said in an earlier interview. Issues such as the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and the crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong had influenced public opinion, but the most dramatic change “related to China weaponising the economic relationship between the two countries,” she said.

The survey showed 63% of Australians view China as more of a security threat, up 22 points from last year. Only 34% said China is “more of an economic partner to Australia,” a drop of 21 points.

“That is remarkable when you consider that China still is Australia’s largest trading partner,” Kassam said.

Overall support for the alliance with the U.S. remained steady, with 78% saying it was important to Australia’s security and 75% saying America would come to the nation’s defense if it was under threat -- both unchanged from last year.

The Lowy survey also showed:

  • For the first time, a majority of respondents (52%) saw any military conflict between the U.S. and China over Taiwan as a critical threat to Australia’s vital interests.
  • 57% said “Australia should remain neutral” in any military conflict between China and the U.S.
  • 59% viewed Covid-19 as a critical threat, down 17 points from last year.
  • 79% of respondents said they are optimistic about Australia’s economic performance in the world, up 27 points since last year.
  • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern topped the list of global leaders, with 91% of respondents expressing confidence in her. Biden followed on 69%, with Morrison and Germany’s Angela Merkel on 67%
  • Cyberattacks from other countries (62%) and climate change (61%) were seen as the most critical threats to Australia.

The survey of 2,222 Australian adults was conducted March 15-29 and has a margin of error of 2.1%.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.