Poll Shows Australians Wary of China's Military, But Value Economic Ties
  • Tue, 06/01/2010 - 12:00

Phil Mercer | Sydney
01 June 2010

A new study shows that Australians are nervous about China's military expansion, but they see its economic growth as a positive development.

Fears about Beijing's military plans, however, are prompting strong support for Australia's alliance with the United States.

Most respondents to the poll, conducted by the Lowy Institute, think that China's voracious appetite for Australia's natural resources, most notably iron ore, is welcome.However the survey shows there are worries about the prospect of the Chinese controlling key economic assets.

There is also deep concern about Beijing's military might.

The Lowy poll, released this week, indicates much anxiety in Australia about China's long-term military ambitions, and those fears continue to convince the population that Canberra's alliance with the United States remains important.

"We've seen, for example, 69 percent of people saying that China's aim is to dominate Asia," said Fergus Hanson of the Lowy Institute. "That's up nine points since two years ago. There's almost half the population that says it's likely China will become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years and there's increased concern about Chinese investment in Australia as well," said Hanson.

The poll's results may have been influenced by strains in the bilateral relationship in the past 18 months, including disputes over Australia allowing a visit by Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer, and the jailing in China of an Australian mining executive on bribery charges.

Despite the political and military concerns, the Lowy study found that more than 70 percent of respondents think China's economic growth is good for Australia.

Economists say that China's surging demand for mineral exports provides a significant boost to the economy, and helped Australia avoid the worst effects of the global financial meltdown over the past two years. Trade between the two countries is worth about $60 billion a year, much of it Australian mineral resources.