Australians' trust in China plummets amid rifts

Survey shows ratio of Aussies who trust Beijing to act responsibly on the world stage fell from 52% in 2018 to a record low amid increasingly assertive behaviour under Xi, but Trump fared poorly as well

by AFP
Australians' trust in China plummets amid rifts
A survey by the Lowy Institute has found the ratio of Australians who trust Beijing to act responsibly on the world stage has fallen by a big margin. But support for US President Donald Trump and his policies was weak also. File photo: AFP.

Australians' trust in China has collapsed, according to a public opinion poll on Wednesday that showed the impact of rising confrontations between the two trading partners.

A survey from Sydney's Lowy Institute showed the number of Australians who trust Beijing to act responsibly on the world stage fell from 52% in 2018 to a record low of 23% today.

China has become increasingly assertive under President Xi Jinping, as Beijing looks to translate its rising economic might into political, diplomatic and military power.

But the muscle-flexing has caused a series of disputes with regional neighbours – from border skirmishes with India to public diplomatic spats with Australia.

Recent months have seen China slap trade sanctions on Australian goods, sentence an Australian citizen to death and mock Canberra's long-standing alliance with the United States.

Beijing had been angered by Australia's pushback against technology giant Huawei, public complaints about Chinese spying and influence-peddling in the country and calls for an independent inquiry into the origins and management of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Trust in our largest trading partner – China – has declined precipitously," Lowy director Michael Fullilove said in announcing the survey results.

"Confidence in China's leader Xi Jinping, has fallen even further."

Some 94% of respondents said they would like to see Australia reduce economic dependence on China and 82% backed sanctions on Chinese officials linked to human rights abuses.

China accounts for around a quarter of all Australian trade, according to official statistics – with Australian minerals helping build China's heavy industry and fuel power generation.

Support for US, but little confidence in Trump

As for the US, “most Australians continue to believe that our alliance with the United States is important to our security. But trust in the United States has stagnated, and few Australians have confidence in President Trump,” said Michael Fullilove, the Lowy Institute’s executive director.

“Only a small minority of the country support the President’s signature policies: increasing tariffs on imports, criticising the defence spending of US allies, and taking America out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations and the Paris climate agreement.

“Our great ally, the United States, was already self-isolating under the presidency of Donald Trump. Now, in the middle of the pandemic, it looks seriously unwell.

“Only one in three Australians (30%) express some or a lot of confidence in US President Donald Trump ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs,’ a five-point increase from 2019.”

With reporting by AFP and graphs from the Lowy Institute.