Australia

Three in four Australians now see China as a military threat as trust hits record-low, Lowy poll finds

The majority of Australians surveyed in a new poll now see to Australia, with trust in China and confidence in its President Xi Jinping at record lows.
The 2022 Lowy Institute Poll, released on Tuesday night, indicated that there are growing concerns about the foreign policies of both Russia and China, along with a potential war over Taiwan.
“There’s a growing awareness of the countries in our region that are democracies, and concern about authoritarian states,” Lowy Institute polling director Natasha Kassam said.

“Australians remain positive about globalisation and free trade, and far fewer see COVID-19 as a threat in 2022.”

Trust in China at record-low

Three-quarters of respondents responded that it is “very” or “somewhat” likely that China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years, an increase of 30 points since 2018.
In a 40-point decrease since 2018, 12 per cent of respondents said they trust China.

And the majority of Australians (65 per cent) see China’s foreign policy as a “critical threat” over the next decade – up 29 points from 2017.

Only 11 per cent of said they have a lot or some confidence in President Xi Jinping to do the right thing regarding world affairs. This figure has halved since 2020 (22 per cent) and has fallen by 32 points since 2018 (43%).
The results showed Australians are also concerned about the potential for conflict over Taiwan, with 64 per cent agreeing a military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan poses a “critical threat”.

For the first time, a majority of Australians (51 per cent) say they would be in favour of using the Australian military if China invaded Taiwan and the United States decided to intervene.

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The data also revealed 88 per cent of Australians are either “very” or “somewhat” concerned about China potentially opening a military base in a Pacific Island country.

‘Almost all’ Australians concerned about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Australian views of Russia have plummeted after the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, according to the data.
Russia’s foreign policy was the top perceived threat recorded by respondents, with 68 per cent saying they believe it poses a “critical threat” to the vital interests of Australia in the next 10 years.

Only 5 per cent of respondents said they trusted Russia “somewhat” or “a great deal” to act responsibly in the world, which represents a 21-point fall from 2021 and makes Russia the country least-trusted by Australians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sits at a desk in front of a microphone.

Six per cent of Australians have ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence in Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to do the right thing in world affairs. Source: Getty / Getty Images/TASS

When it comes to world leaders, the report said 6 per cent of Australians have “a lot” or “some” confidence in Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to do the right thing in world affairs, a ten-point decline since 2021.

Climate change still considered a critical threat

Most Australians continue to see climate change as a critical threat and support more ambitious targets, along with introducing an emissions trade scheme or carbon tax.
The majority of respondents (60 per cent) agreed global warming is a “serious and pressing problem”, about which Australia “should begin taking steps now”, even if it involves significant costs.

However, 10 per cent said Australia should not take any steps that would have economic costs “until we are sure that global warming is really a problem”.

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The vast majority of respondents (90 per cent) said they support federal government subsidies for renewable energy technology, and 77 per cent are in favour of a more ambitious emissions target for 2030.

Are Australians still concerned about COVID-19?

While Australia is currently recording thousands of COVID-19 cases, far fewer people are seeing the virus as a critical threat in 2022.

The perceived threat of COVID-19 (and other potential epidemics) continued on a downward trajectory, with only 42 per cent believing they pose a critical threat to Australia’s vital interest in the next 10 years.

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This marks a 17-point fall from 2021, and is 34 points below the 2020 result of 76 per cent at the outset of the pandemic.
According to the report, more Australians are now supporting immigration and openness, with 46 per cent saying the number of immigrants allowed into Australia should be “around the same as pre-COVID levels”.
More than one in five (22 per cent) said the number should be lower than pre-pandemic levels, and 21 per cent said it should be higher.

The poll surveyed 2,006 Australian adults between 15 and 28 March this year, and were randomly recruited via their landline or mobile phone or via their address, with a margin of error of 2.2 per cent.

Regional security concerns

Foreign Minister Penny Wong met with her Malaysian counterpart on Tuesday in Kuala Lumpur with regional security concerns covered in the talks.
Malaysia’s foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah voiced his continued concern about Australia’s AUKUS deal to acquire nuclear submarine technology.
Mr Saifuddin said there was a “candid discussion” about the agreement between Australia, the United States and United Kingdom, with the nation’s view on the security pact remaining unchanged.
“We want to maintain the South China Sea in particular and the region as a whole as a region of peace, of commerce, of prosperity,” he told reporters.
“We had a very candid discussion on AUKUS just now and I thank foreign minister [Penny Wong] for explaining the government’s position.

“Malaysia’s position remains the same. I have mentioned that to the foreign minister.”

Australia's foreign minister at a podium alongside her Malaysian counterpart.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong, left, speaks during a press conference after meeting with Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah during visit to Foreign Ministry in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Source: AP / Vincent Thian/AP

Senator Wong said she appreciated the opportunity “to explain how we see AUKUS to [ Mr Saifuddin] and to other counterparts during recent visits to Vietnam and Indonesia.”

Mr Saiffudin and Indonesia’s foreign ministry have previously raced concerns the deal could contribute to an arms race in the region.
Senator Wong said the new Labor government had committed to going ahead with the new submarines, but Australia would not become a nuclear power.
“There are nuclear powers in this region, but Australia is not one of them,” she said.
“What we are doing is replacing an existing capability with a new capability and that is nuclear-propelled submarines.

“Australia will always operate on the basis that we have this objective of a region that is peaceful, a region that is stable, a region that is prosperous, a region in which sovereignty is respected.”

Nuclear submarines by 2030 ‘optimistic’

Defence Minister Richard Marles on Wednesday said a proposed timeline to acquire nuclear submarine technology for Australia by 2030 is “optimistic in the extreme”.
“We will be looking at every option available to try and bring that time frame forward. I think bringing it forward to eight years from now would be extremely optimistic,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
But by March next year, Mr Marles said he expects to know when the submarines secured by the former Morrison government under the AUKUS partnership will be operational.
He said first it’s important to understand what submarines will be secured, where Australia’s defence capability gaps are and how they can be filled.
“What we were left with by the former government was a real mess in this area and the solution to that mess is answering each of those questions,” he said.

“We need to look at options of bringing all of that forward … [and] how we can get that submarine in service sooner rather than later.”

A man speaking while standing at a lectern.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles. Source: AAP / James Ross

Defence heads have previously told government officials there was an aim to have at least one nuclear-powered submarine in the water by 2040.

The defence minister is reviewing whether to go with a United States or United Kingdom submarine plan, with the 18-month assessment due in March 2023.
Part of the review includes bringing forward the time frame that submarines could be delivered, and stemming from that, what capability gaps would arise.
But Australia’s likelihood of having a nuclear-powered submarine in operation as early as 2030 remained unlikely, the defence minister said.
Mr Marles also defended his decision to extend General Angus Campbell’s term by an additional two years despite criticism of the defence chief’s ability to deliver on capability.
“It’s not (defence heads) who oversaw the issues and the problems that we now face, it was the former government,” he said.

With AAP.

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