Trust in China falls sharply among Australians, Lowy poll finds

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Trust in China among Australians has more than halved amid diplomatic and trade disputes, with only 23% saying they trusted Beijing to act responsibly in the world compared to a 52% reading two years ago, a major poll has found.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the closing session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China May 28, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The annual Lowy Institute Poll also found rising support for Australia’s security alliance with the United States, up six points to 78% this year, even though U.S. President Donald Trump was unpopular with Australians.

“Trust in our largest trading partner - China - has declined precipitously. Confidence in China’s leader Xi Jinping, has fallen even further,” wrote Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove.

In total, 94 percent of respondents thought the Australian government should work to reduce its economic reliance on China by diversifying its trade.

Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Australians were less trusting of most countries around the world, and only half of Australians said they felt safe.

Diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Canberra have worsened since Australia called for an international inquiry into the source and spread of the new coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

China has banned some Australian beef imports and imposed tariffs on Australian barley. It has also urged Chinese students and tourists to avoid Australia.

While Australians believed the U.S. alliance was important for Australia’s security, Fullilove said “trust in the United States has stagnated, and few Australians have confidence in President Trump”.

Fifty-one percent of respondents trusted the United States to act responsibly in the world, steady with last year and down from 61% in 2017.

The survey found 55% rated Australia’s relationship with the United States as more important than the relationship with China, compared to 40% who chose China.

The number of Australians who saw China as an economic partner fell to 55% in 2020, significantly down from a reading of 82% in 2018.

Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Editing by Michael Perry