The Australian public’s trust in China has fallen to less than half of what it was two years ago, with more than nine in ten people believing the government must reduce its reliance on the Asian powerhouse.
The Lowy Institute’s findings released Wednesday show Australians feel “far more distrustful, pessimistic and generally less secure in the world”, the think tank’s Natasha Kassam said.
The survey found just 23 per cent of Australians trust China to act responsibly in the world, down from 52 per cent in 2018.
Meanwhile, 94 per cent of people want the Morrison government to reduce the country’s economic dependence on China, our number one trading partner, by looking at other markets.
The poll of 2448 adults was taken between March 16 and 29, before an escalation in trade tensions with China and the inquiry into the origin of the coronavirus.
“Until about two years ago, Australians saw China as an economic opportunity,” Ms Kassam told the ABC.
“The rise of debates about foreign interference, Huawei, Hong Kong and many other issues has seen this perception shift to increasingly seeing China as more of a security threat.”
More than half of respondents see China as “more of an economic partner” whereas 41 per cent see China as “more of a security threat” to Australia.
However, when it comes to the way coronavirus has been handled, Australians rank China (31 per cent) above the US, at just 10 per cent.
That contrasts with the 93 per cent who back the way the Morrison government has tackled the pandemic.
“Australians are sceptical of China, disappointed in the United States, and anxious about the economic downturn,” the institute said.
The feeling of safety is at a historic low in the Lowy poll which has been conducted for the past 16 years to gauge Australian attitudes towards international issues.
It found a record low of just 50 per cent of people reported feeling safe in Australia.
Almost three-quarters of people say a severe downturn in the global economy poses a critical threat, while only 52 per cent now feel optimistic about Australia’s outlook compared with 65 per cent a year ago.
Just under three-quarters of respondents say drought and water shortages and the COVID-19 pose threats to Australia’s vital interests, and were the top-ranked threats for 2020.
Australians had the most confidence in New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, followed by Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe, then Scott Morrison. China’s President Xi Jinping ranked just below Us president Donald Trump.
Four out of five Australians also believe the government should sanction Chinese officials associated with human rights abuses.
Over three-quarters of respondents say the relationship with the US is important to Australia’s security, although less than a third have confidence in US President Donald Trump to do the right thing in world affairs.
Trust in neighbours like India and Indonesia were hardly overwhelming at 45 per cent and 36 per cent respectively.