US Studies Centre says findings may bolster views among some Americans of ‘softness’ in support for US alliance
By Michael Safi
Malcolm Turnbull and and the president of China, Xi Jinping. Photograph:
Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media
An overwhelming number of Australians believe China has already become the most influential nation in the Asia-Pacific region and more want stronger ties with the rising superpower than with the US, according to an extensive survey of public opinion in Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
Enthusiasm for a strong US role in the Asia-Pacific was also significantly lower in Australia than in South Korea, Indonesia, Japan and even China in some cases, according to the research released on Wednesday by the University of Sydney’s US Studies Centre and regional partners.
More Australians (70%) were likely to see Beijing and Washington as “competitors” than even the Chinese citizens surveyed (50%), though the poll also found a significant lack of regional awareness among Australian respondents, 42% of whom were not aware that Japan was a US ally.
One in two Australians professed ignorance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the same number as in China.
Regionally, the survey of 3,750 people – an equal number in each of the five countries – found broad agreement that China would be most influential nation in Asia by 2026, with 69% of Australians agreeing China was already dominant, compared with 56% of Chinese.
The other nations were comparatively sceptical of the prospect, particularly the Japanese, 78% of who said China would never displace the US as the world’s foremost power.
About 60% more Japanese felt China’s role in the Asia-Pacific was negative than positive, compared with 7% of Australians, though the latter also felt the US played an overall harmful role in the region.
A belief in China’s positive influence in the region was unsurprisingly highest among the Chinese (60%), followed by Indonesia (13%) and South Korea (11%).
Only the South Koreans and the Japanese felt overall positively about the role of the US in the region.
Australian public opinion was the most divided on whether the country should bolster ties with the US (a majority of 4% in a combined positive-negative score) compared with significant majorities in favour of strengthening the US relationship in China (48%), Indonesia (38%), Japan (29%) and South Korea (43%).
Japanese respondents were the most divided on whether to strengthen ties with China, recording just a 6% majority in favour, compared with a 30% in Australia, 44% in Indonesia and 53% in South Korea.
James Brown, a research director at the US Studies Centre, said the results suggested Australians “remain seized by the narrative that US power is declining in the region” and had a “a benevolent view” of the rivalry between China and the US.
He said the findings “bolster views among some Americans that there is a creeping softness in Australian support for the US alliance” and suggest Australians “might not automatically identify with Japanese concerns over China” – including disputes over recognition of historical crimes and islands in the South China Sea.