Australians Cooling on China . . . Again

Poll tracks further declining sentiment towards China . . . 

The latest annual poll by the Lowy Institute, a Sydney-based think-tank, shows that Australians’ opinions of China have fallen precipitously. Only 23 per cent of Australians say they trust Beijing to act responsibly in the world, compared to 32 per cent last year, and 52 per cent two years ago. Ninety-four per cent of Australians also think their government should work to reduce its economic dependence on China by diversifying its trade. Correspondingly, the poll shows increasing support for a strengthened security alliance with the United States, up six points from last year to 78 per cent, even though U.S. President Donald Trump remains unpopular with Australians.

Canadians also feeling less optimistic regarding China . . .

A poll conducted in May by the Angus Reid Institute (see the Read More section below) shows that only 14 per cent of Canadians say they have a positive opinion of China, a drop from 29 per cent six months ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic. The poll also shows that 85 per cent of Canadians say the Chinese government has not been honest about the outbreak, and only 11 per cent say Canada should focus its trade efforts on China, down from 40 per cent five years ago. Canadian opinion towards China has significantly declined since Beijing arrested the ‘two Michaels’ in retaliation for the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou. A recent poll by the Macdonald Laurier Institute shows that about 80 per cent of Canadians would support a stronger response by Ottawa over human rights abuses in China.

What way forward?

Calls have been increasing for both Ottawa and Canberra to take a stronger position regarding China, which would, according to surveys, be supported by citizens in Canada and Australia alike. A tougher approach towards China also has its perils, as middle powers such as Canada and Australia lack the grit to ‘walk the talk.’ Undertaking megaphone diplomacy may please domestic audiences, but achieving intended results from doing so is less than certain. Middle powers like Canada and Australia are in an unprecedented situation with China. Canadian polls reveal the need for rigorous national debate and a bipartisan or multipartisan consensus on how to proceed with Canada’s biggest foreign policy challenge.