Sweet and Sour: Australian Public Attitudes Towards China

By Andrew Shearer, Director of Studies and Senior Research Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

Executive Summary

The 2010 Lowy Poll shows that Australians are increasingly conscious of China’s rise and are starting to grapple with its implications. Indeed China looms so large that Australians have developed a somewhat exaggerated view of its global weight. The Poll provides a window into a relationship that will become not only more important but also much more complex and challenging.

Australians welcome growing trade with China. They are much less welcoming of investment by Chinese state-owned entities, however, reflecting concerns about China’s authoritarian political system and possible strategic motives.

As a result of problems in the bilateral diplomatic relationship over the past two years and of Beijing’s increasingly assertive international behaviour, Australians are becoming more concerned about the geopolitical implications of China’s rise. Our economic and strategic interests are diverging for the first time in over 200 years. This fundamental departure is starkly reflected in the Poll’s finding that almost half of all Australians think our major trading partner may attack us within the next two decades.

Managing China’s rise will be easier for Australia if the next government gets right our other key Asian relationships and our domestic policy settings, leverages our natural resources wealth to maximise our international influence, and puts in place a clear policy framework for relations with China. The incoming government needs to develop a coherent regional strategy and articulate a durable long-term approach to the relationship with China that supports commerce and lays out clear and consistent principles for foreign sovereign investment while underlining that Australia will not compromise on its core strategic interests or its values.

The paper can be found here.


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