A vast majority of Australians now see China as a military threat to their country, according to a respected Sydney-based research organization. Russia’s war in Ukraine has also been identified as a major security concern in a recently released survey by the Lowy Institute that says Australians are worried about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the potential for conflict between China and Taiwan.
The poll released Monday has also shown that trust in China and confidence in its President, Xi Jinping, is at record lows in Australia.
Natasha Kassam is the Lowy Institute’s polling director. She told VOA the poll reflects a growing sense of apprehension in Australia.
“In 2022, Australians are most concerned about China and the potential for a war over Taiwan between the United States and China. This is really looming large for Australians after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which I think was a reminder for most Australians that they should not take their safety and security for granted.”
Australia has fallen out with China in recent years over significant geopolitical issues, including Beijing’s territorial ambitions in the South China Sea and the COVID-19 pandemic. Australia’s call for an investigation into the origins of COVID-19 became a source of intense friction.
It was first detected in China, but Beijing saw Australia’s demand for a global inquiry as criticism of its handling of the virus. In apparent retaliation, China imposed restrictions of a range of Australian imports, including restrictions on coal and wine.
Kassam says many Australians worry what China might do in the future.
“Three-quarters of the Australian public say that China may pose a military threat to Australia in the next two decades. It really shows that while Australians are focused on the potential for conflict in the region whether that be in Taiwan or over other disputed areas, they are really concerned about the way in which China has been treating Australia.”
The recently elected Canberra government is attempting to sooth tensions with China, which is Australia’s biggest trading partner.
But analysts have said fresh tensions have emerged recently as Beijing attempts to boost its security and trade presence in the Pacific, an area Australia regards as its traditional sphere of influence.
The Lowy Institute survey indicates strong support for the Australia-U.S. alliance that dates back to the early 1950s.
Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they saw the alliance as “very” or “fairly” important, a nine-point increase from last year.
However, the survey indicates that while military ties with the United States are the bedrock of Australia’s national security, they are considered to be both a strength and a potential weakness because they could “drag” Australia into a war in Asia.
The Lowy Institute poll samples the views of about 2,000 people. The annual survey began in 2005.