Australian public attitudes to China sour

Tensions between Australia and China have escalated since 2017 and worsened after Canberra called...
Tensions between Australia and China have escalated since 2017 and worsened after Canberra called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, prompting Chinese trade sanctions against Australian exports. Photo: Getty Images
The Australian public believe the nation is too economically reliant on China and back the Morrison government's harder policy line on Beijing, a survey of the attitudes to the Australia-China relationship by a Sydney university shows.

Tensions between Australia and China have escalated since 2017 and worsened after Canberra called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19, prompting Chinese trade sanctions against Australian exports.

Although people surveyed by the University of Technology's Australia-China Relations Institute agreed the Australian economy had prospered because of past close engagement with China, 80% said the nation had become too economically reliant on it.

"Chinese economic coercion has started to bite and Canberra's pushback against Beijing has reached a new intensity," wrote Elena Collinson and Paul Burke, authors of the attitude survey of 2000 adults conducted in March and April.

Almost three-quarters (72%) of people surveyed said the Australian government was right to publicly call for an investigation into the origins of Covid-19, and two-thirds (63%) believed the government should take a harder line in policies dealing with China.

Most (65%) said China had more influence than the United States in Australia's regional neighbourhood.

The survey found negative sentiment towards Chinese investment in agriculture and residential real estate, and 81% said universities were too financially reliant on international students from China.

Two-thirds of those surveyed said their view of China had become more negative since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In May, China formally suspended an annual economic dialogue with Australia, after the Morrison government nullified an agreement struck by the state of Victoria to support China's Belt and Road Initiative.

The Morrison government has sought to strike free trade agreements with other nations, including Britain, to diversify markets for its agriculture and wine sector.

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