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Australians cautiously admit China’s power but would like to maintain US influence

Sydney, June 9: Australians have tentatively accepted the rise of China as a great power in the Asia-Pacific alongside the United States, according to a new survey released by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney.

Australians overwhelmingly believe that China is the most important country in the Asia-Pacific today and will continue to be so for the next ten years. Sixty-nine per cent of Australians surveyed said China has the most influence in the Asia-Pacific, more than the Chinese themselves (56 per cent).

Only 11 per cent of Australians thought that the United States would be the most powerful nation in Asia in ten years’ time, less than any of the five countries surveyed.

Australians’ desire for a stronger relationship with China was 26 percentage points higher than the desire for closer ties with the United States, a gap larger than in any other surveyed country.

Australian public opinion was almost equally divided on whether to strengthen or weaken ties with the United States.

Lead author Simon Jackman, CEO of the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, said the results show Australians have accepted that a bipolar era has arrived in the Asia-Pacific. “The Australian public has reached a point that analysts have been predicting would come for decades, that China is the most dominant country in the Asia-Pacific,” he said.

“Australians want closer ties with both the United States and China, but are more enthusiastic about strengthening the China relationship.”

Jackman said that assessments of the Australia-US relationship begin from a high baseline, given Australia’s longstanding close ties with United States. “Accordingly, Australians are less likely to say they want an even stronger relationship with the United States.”

While acknowledging China’s rise, Australians report some wariness, with negative appraisals of China’s influence on the Asia-Pacific outpacing positive views by seven points. Australia had the second most negative assessment of Chinese ambitions after the Japanese.

Seventy per cent of Australian respondents described the United States and China as competitors, choosing this term over partners, enemies, close friends, or fearful. This was the highest percentage among the countries surveyed. Another 17 per cent chose the label ‘fearful’. 

At the same time, just 12 per cent of Australians think a US-China conflict is quite or extremely likely.

“Australians sense competitive tension in the US-China relationship but attach little probability to that tension generating a militarised conflict,” said Jackman.

“Australia’s relative distance from China, coupled with the fact that China is Australia’s largest trading partner, may explain why Australians are less concerned by China’s rise or by tensions in the relationship with the United States,” said Jackman.

The data comes from The Asian Research Network: Survey on America’s role in the Asia Pacific, produced by the United States Studies Centre at the University of Sydney in conjunction with the Perth USAsia Centre at the University of Western Australia and four other regional partners.

The survey asked members of the public in Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, and South Korea, about perceptions of the US-China relationship, trade, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the likelihood of conflict in the region and how the surveyed countries view their neighbours.

The report was launched last night at a special event featuring CEO and editor of the FP group (Foreign Policy, foreignpolicy.com) David Rothkopf.

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