While Australian political leaders are growing more concerned about the security and military threat posed by China, new research show the Australian people are more worried about the amount of farmland and real estate that Chinese citizens are buying in the country.
The 14th annual Lowy Institute poll into Australian attitudes found 72 per cent of Australians believe the government is allowing too much investment from China, up from 56 per cent in 2014.
But the poll found that, as in other recent years, just 46 per cent say it is likely that China “will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years”.
Indeed the vast majority of Australians – 82 per cent – see China as “more of an economic partner” than a military threat, a number that has increased by 5 per cent since 2015.
But 70 per cent of Australians agree that China’s recent assertive foreign policy stances suggest it will become a militarily aggressive power.
The Lowy Institute’s director of research, Alex Oliver, says these findings suggest there is a difference in views between opinion “elites” in media, security and government and everyday Australians, who tend to have a far more pragmatic view of China.
Despite the increasing intensity in public debate about whether Australia will be forced to choose between its alliance partner, the United States, and its largest trading partner, China, 81 per cent believe it is possible to maintain close relationships with both.
Also, despite the intense public debate over foreign influence in Australian politics over the past 12 months, most Australians remain unconcerned about the issue, with just 41 per cent citing it as a threat to the vital interests of the nation, placing it eighth on a list of 11 potential threats, just behind the presidency of Donald Trump.
The Lowy Institute’s director Michael Fullilove said that Australians have “managed to pull off the trick of separating their distaste for Mr Trump from their faith in the alliance with the US”.
The poll found that 55 per cent of Australians now trust the US to act either “a great deal” or “somewhat” responsibly. This is a six percentage point fall since last year and a 28 point fall since 2011. It places Australian trust in the US behind Britain, Japan, France and India, and only barely ahead of China.
Just 36 per cent of respondents believed China’s growing power to be a critical threat to Australia, while 42 per cent declared Mr Trump’s presidency was a critical threat.
Only 30 per cent of Australians claimed to have either “a lot” or “some” trust in Mr Trump, with 49 per cent of Australian women and 30 per cent of Australian men saying they had no confidence “at all” in the American leader, placing him just ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Despite this lack of faith in the President, Australians still support the alliance with the US, with 76 per cent saying it was either “very” or “fairly” important to Australian national security and 64 per cent saying Australia should remain close to the US under Mr Trump. Both figures were almost unchanged from last year’s results.
But Dr Fullilove warned he expected that, over future years, he would expect lack of support for Mr Trump to cause a decline in support for the alliance.
The poll also found that, for the first time, most Australians – 54 per cent – believed the current level of immigration to be too high, with 44 per cent saying it was about right and 30 per cent saying it was too low.
Ms Oliver said the poll’s fieldwork was conducted shortly after former prime minister Tony Abbott made a high profile speech against current immigration levels, and that his intervention might have had some impact on peoples’ views.
On average, Australians believe about 14 per cent of the budget is spent on foreign aid. In fact such aid makes up about 0.8 per cent.
Following a turbulent period in world politics, 17 per cent of Australians are satisfied with “the way things are going with the world today”, while 49 per cent said they felt similarly about Australia.
Critical threats to Australia ranked by respondents to poll
- International terrorism: 66 per cent
- North Korea’s nuclear program: 66 per cent
- Climate change: 58 per cent
- Cyber attacks from other countries: 57 per cent
- A severe downturn in the global economy: 50 per cent
- Dissemination of false information or fake news: 42 per cent
- The presidency of Donald Trump: 42 per cent
- Foreign interference in Australian politics: 41 per cent
- Large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into Australia: 40 per cent
- US foreign policies: 36 per cent
- China’s growing power: 36 per cent
By Nick O’Malley