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Australia's Foreign Policy Receives Mixed Score
Source: radioaustralia.net.au
Source Date: Monday, May 31, 2010
Focus: Institution and HR Management
Country: Australia
Created: Jun 07, 2010

Australia's Lowy Institute for international policy has released results from its sixth annual national survey of one-thousand adult Australians. Asked to score the federal government's record on a range of foreign policy issues, people who were surveyed gave it failing grades on asylum seekers and whaling, and a pass for relations with China. The poll, conducted in March, found nearly three quarters of Australians agreed China's growth has been good for Australia - but more than two thirds also agreed that China's aim is to dominate Asia.

Presenter: Sen Lam
Speakers: Dr Michael Wesley, Executive Director, Lowy Institute WESLEY: Yes I think what we're seeing is that Australians at the same time see China's economic growth as good for Australia's economic fortunes, but are becoming a little bit more nervous about what China is going to do with this power. And so for example when we asked them whether they thought China's aim was eventually to dominate Asia, we found that 69 per cent of respondents agreed with that. And that's up from 60 per cent who agreed with that in 2008.

LAM: How well informed do you think the respondents are? WESLEY: Look I think people generally get their views about foreign policy from a variety of sources, but in answer to that question I wonder if I can quote another finding, we asked people which country was the world's leading economic power, and what we found was that 55 per cent of respondents said China was, while only 32 per cent said the United States. That's despite the fact that China's economy is only about half the size of Americas'. So you can see that people and their impressions can sometimes be mistaken about these things.

LAM: And the Australian government's highest grade I understand was for maintaining a strong alliance with the United States? WESLEY: That's correct and it got seven out of ten for that particular question, and I think that these things are not necessarily unconnected, I think we've seen over time levels of concern about China's rise on the rise, and at the same time we've got high levels of support for the US alliance. So the more worried people get about China the more they tend to see the importance of our alliance with the United States.

LAM: Do you think this might have more to do with President Obama than Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? WESLEY: It could be a little bit about that, I think Australians probably have listened on a few occasions when Barack Obama has said nice things about Australia and about Kevin Rudd, and also I think Australians have taken notice of the effort that the Prime Minister has put in to building a good relationship with Obama.

LAM: Your poll also asked a question about the perceived threat from our giant neighbour Indonesia, were you surprised that one out of three said that the country was more a threat now compared to 15 years ago? WESLEY: Look it's a really strange result, we asked people first of all whether they'd registered that Indonesia had become a democracy and a reasonably strong number said that they'd registered that, but they don't seem to correlate that with an increase in trust or a decrease in distrust of Indonesia. The numbers on Indonesia really haven't changed very much at all over time, and I actually think that that's an issue that the government should be taking a lot of notice of.

LAM: Why do you think Australians are more wary now? WESLEY: Look I think they continue to have about the same levels of wariness and I think a lot of is rooted really in ignorance. I don't think there's a great deal of understanding about what Indonesia is and what happens there. For instance I think there's probably a great deal more understanding of the bigger countries further north, such as China and Japan. I think people just look at Indonesia on the map, they register that it's a large country of over 200-million people, and they associate it with everything from bombings to people smuggling to all sorts of transnational and other threats, and the threat perception remains fairly high on that.

LAM: And from the results of the survey did you get the impression that Australians feel they fit more in Asia or the Pacific or both? WESLEY: Well that was an interesting one, we asked people what region they thought that Australia was part of. Thirty-two per cent said Asia, 31 per cent said the Pacific, and a really surprisingly high 31 per cent said Australia is not really part of any region. And that was one of the big surprises for me from this poll.
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