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Anxiety about Russia and China has overtaken Australians’ concerns about Covid-19 and climate change, an annual poll for the Lowy Institute foreign policy think-tank has found.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was a concern for 92% of those polled, and 87% said they were concerned by co-operation between China and Russia.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shaken Australians’ view of their own security and region,” Lowy Institute polling director Natasha Kassam said in a statement.
Three-quarters of the 2,000 Australians surveyed by the Lowy Institute in March saw China as a military threat, reflecting a sharp fall in the opinion Australians have of their biggest trading partner.
Five years ago, the poll showed Australians saw China more as an economic partner than a security threat.
“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,” Kassam said.
China’s ambassador has called on the new Australian government to improve ties, which deteriorated in recent years as China imposed sanctions on a range of Australian energy and agriculture exports, and Australia barred Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G network.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who took office last month, has expressed concern about a Chinese security pact with the neighbouring Solomon Islands.
Three-quarters of respondents in the Lowy Institute poll said it was “very” or “somewhat likely” China would become a military threat to Australia in the next 20 years, up 29 points since 2018.
A majority (88%) said they were concerned about the possibility of China opening a military base in a Pacific island nation.
There was high support for Australia providing aid to the Pacific region, for disaster relief (93%), vaccines (86%), economic development (84%) and to stop China increasing its influence (82%).
Almost two-thirds (64%) said a military conflict between the US and China over Taiwan posed a critical threat, up 12 points from a year earlier.
Only 42% saw Covid-19 as a critical threat, down 17-points from a year earlier.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.