The majority of Australians surveyed in a new poll now see to Australia, with confidence in China and confidence in its president Xi Jinping at record lows.
The Lowy Institute’s 2022 poll, released Tuesday night, indicated growing concerns about the foreign policy of both Russia and China, along with a possible war over Taiwan.
“There is a growing awareness of the countries in our region that are democracies, and there is a growing awareness of authoritarian states,” said Natasha Kassam, poll director of the Lowy Institute.
“Australians remain positive about globalization and free trade, and far fewer see COVID-19 as a threat in 2022.”
Confidence in China at record high
Three quarters of respondents answered that it is “very” or “somewhat” likely that China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years, a 30-point increase since 2018.
In a 40-point drop since 2018, 12 percent of respondents said they trust China.
And the majority of Australians (65 percent) view China’s foreign policy as a “critical threat” for the next decade – 29 points more than in 2017.
Only 11 percent of them said they have a lot or some faith in President Xi Jinping to do the right thing in world affairs. This figure has halved since 2020 (22 percent) 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 percent agreeing that a military conflict between the United States and China over Taiwan poses a “critical threat”.
For the first time, a majority of Australians (51 percent) say they would support the use of the Australian military if China invaded Taiwan and the United States intervened.
The data also showed that 88 percent of Australians are “very” or “somewhat” concerned that China may open a military base in a Pacific country.
‘Almost all’ Australians concerned about Russian invasion of Ukraine
According to the data, Australian views on Russia have plummeted after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia’s foreign policy was the most perceived threat recorded by respondents, with 68 percent saying they think it poses a “critical threat” to Australia’s vital interests over the next 10 years.
Just 5 percent of respondents said they trusted Russia “somewhat” or “a lot” to act responsibly in the world, representing a 21-point drop from 2021 and making Russia the least trusted country by Australians.
Six percent of Australians have “a lot” or “some” confidence in Russian 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 that 6 percent of Australians have “a lot” or “some” trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin to do the right thing in the world, down 10 points since 2021.
Climate change is still considered a critical threat
Most Australians continue to see climate change as a critical threat and support more ambitious targets, along with the introduction of an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax.
The majority of respondents (60 per cent) agreed that global warming is a “serious and urgent problem”, which Australia “should take action now”, even if it involves significant costs.
However, 10 per cent said Australia should not take steps that entail economic costs “until we know for sure that global warming is a real problem”.
The vast majority of respondents (90 percent) said they support federal government subsidies for renewable energy technology, and 77 percent are in favor of a more ambitious 2030 emissions target.
Are Australians still concerned about COVID-19?
While Australia is currently registering thousands of COVID-19 cases, far fewer people see the virus as a critical threat in 2022.
The perceived threat from COVID-19 (and other potential epidemics) continued on a downward trajectory, with only 42 percent believing they pose a critical threat to Australia’s vital interests over the next 10 years.
This marks a 17-point drop from 2021 and is 34 points lower than the 2020 result of 76 percent at the start of the pandemic.
More Australians now support immigration and openness, according to the report, with 46 percent saying the number of immigrants entering Australia “should be about the same as pre-COVID levels”.
More than one in five (22 percent) said the number should be lower than pre-pandemic levels, and 21 percent said it should be higher.
The poll surveyed 2,006 Australian adults between March 15 and 28 this year, and were randomly recruited via their landline, mobile phone or address, with a 2.2 percent margin of error.
Regional Security Issues
Foreign Minister Penny Wong met her Malaysian counterpart in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah expressed continued concern over Australia’s AUKUS deal to acquire nuclear submarine technology.
Saifuddin said there was “frank discussion” about the agreement between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, with the country’s views on the security pact unchanged.
“In particular, we want to preserve the South China Sea and the region as a whole as a region of peace, trade and prosperity,” he told reporters.
“We just had a very frank discussion about AUKUS and I thank the Foreign Minister [Penny Wong] to explain the government’s position.
“Malaysia’s position remains the same. I have reported it to the Foreign Minister.”
Foreign Minister Penny Wong, left, speaks at a press conference after meeting Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah during a visit to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Putrajaya, Malaysia. Source: AP † Vincent Thian/AP
Senator Wong said she appreciated the opportunity “to explain how we see AUKUS” [ Mr Saifuddin] and to other colleagues during recent visits to Vietnam and Indonesia.”
Saiffudin and the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have previously feared the deal could contribute to an arms race in the region.
Senator Wong said the new Labor government had pledged to continue with the new submarines but that 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’re doing is replacing an existing capability with a new capability, which is nuclear-powered submarines.
“Australia will always operate on the basis that we have this goal: a region that is peaceful, a region that is stable, a region that is prosperous, a region that respects sovereignty.”
Nuclear submarines in 2030 ‘optimistic’
Defense Secretary Richard Marles said on Wednesday that a proposed timeline to acquire nuclear submarine technology for Australia by 2030 is “optimistic to the extreme”.
“We’ll look at every available option to try and bring that time frame forward. I think it would be extremely optimistic to take it to eight years,” 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 first said it is important to understand which submarines will be secured, where the gaps in Australia’s defense capability are and how they can be filled.
“What was left to us by the former government was a real mess in this area and the solution to that mess is to answer every one of those questions,” he said.
“We need to look at options to bring all that forward… [and] how we can get that sub into service sooner rather than later.”
Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles. Source: MONKEY † James Ross
Defense leaders have previously told government officials the goal is to have at least one nuclear-powered submarine in the water by 2040.
The Secretary of Defense is considering whether to opt for a United States or United Kingdom submarine plan, with an 18-month assessment in March 2023.
Part of the review includes bringing forward the time frame that submarines could be delivered, and as a result, what capacity gaps would arise.
But the chances of Australia having a nuclear-powered submarine in service as early as 2030 remained unlikely, the defense minister said.
Marles also defended his decision to extend General Angus Campbell’s term for another two years, despite criticism of the defense chief’s ability to live up to his abilities.
“It’s not (defense heads) who oversaw the problems and the problems we face now, it was the former government,” he said.