Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and potential conflict over Taiwan have topped Australia’s concerns, according to a new poll.
A large majority of Australians see China as a military threat while confidence in President Xi Jinping sits at record lows, new Lowy Institute research reveals.
Most Australians would support the defence force becoming engaged in a conflict between Taiwan and China with concerns about a potential war outstripping the previously leading concerns over COVID-19 and climate change.
The research shows the extent to which Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended Australia’s thoughts about their own security, polling director Natasha Kassam said.
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More than two-thirds of respondents listed Russia at the top of a list of threats to Australia’s vital interests, while 65 per cent also raising concerns about China’s foreign policy.
“Australia’s new government will find support for more defence spending, tough policies towards China and Russia, and stronger engagement in our region and on the world stage,” Ms Kassam said.
“There’s a growing awareness of the countries in our region that are democracies, and concern about authoritarian states. Australians remain positive about globalisation and free trade, and far fewer see COVID-19 as a threat in 2022.”
Three-quarters of respondents said it’s either “very” or “somewhat” likely China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years, which represents an increase of 29 points since 2018.
More than two-thirds say a conflict between the United States and China is a critical threat and just over half say the Australian Defence Force should be called upon if the US intervened in a conflict over Taiwan.
The prospect of a military base in the Pacific after Beijing concerns the majority of Australians (88 per cent), while 93 per cent think foreign aid in the Pacific should be increased.
Fears about the rise of authoritarianism, including in the Indo-Pacific, has resulted in overwhelming support for the acquisition of nuclear submarines and participation in security alliances like AUKUS and the Quad.
Seventy per cent are in favour of nuclear-powered submarines and just over half the population want to see an increase in defence spending.
Just over half say AUKUS and the Quad alliances makes Australia safer.
The poll sampled just over 2000 people between March 15 and 18 came days before a draft security agreement between China and Solomon Islands leaked online.
Only one in 10 respondents said they have “a lot”‘ or “some” confidence in President Xi to “do the right thing regarding world affairs”.
The release of the results comes less than a week after China’s ambassador to Australia told the Australia-China Relations Institute the country was not seeking to alter the current rules-based world order.
“China supports necessary reform and improvements to the international order system so as to make it more just and equitable, but China does not seek to start a new one,” Xiao Qian said.
“China will firmly uphold the international system with the United Nations at its core – the international order based on international law.”