Anti-China Rhetoric Leaves Australia Fearful of Attack but Opposed to War: Polling

Australia Institute

New research by the Australia Institute’s International & Security Affairs Program has revealed that a similar number of Australians think China will attack Australia soon or sometime (42%) as Taiwanese think that China will attack Taiwan (51%)-a result that may have been stimulated by recent strong-arm tactics by the Government of China, and anti-China rhetoric in Australia.

The Australia Institute surveyed nationally representative samples of both Australians and Taiwanese about their views on what might be at stake in defending Taiwan’s national security.

Key Findings:

  • A comparable number of Australians think that China will attack Australia soon or sometime (42%) as Taiwanese think that China will attack Taiwan (51%).
  • Despite Australia’s distance from China, Australians and Taiwanese have a similar threat perception. Both see China as being a very aggressive country (62% and 65%).
  • More Australians (13%) than Taiwanese (4%) think that a China invasion of Taiwan is likely sometime soon.
  • Australians are sympathetic to Taiwanese aspirations for independence. Two-thirds of Australians agree that Taiwan should still become a new country, even if China decides to attack.
  • Between one in five and two in five Australians support Australian forces fighting for the defence of Taiwan.
  • The report outlines that for Australia, a war with China would be a war of choice. Where possible, Australia’s diplomatic efforts would best be directed towards building consensus around shared interests and shared values with China.

“Given Australia and Taiwan’s historical and geographical differences, it is astounding that Australians could be more fearful than Taiwan in anticipating an attack from China-there is no doubt that China’s recent actions and anti-China rhetoric in Australia have generated fear and insecurity in the Australian community,” said Allan Behm, head of the Institute’s International & Security Affairs program, and report co-author.

“For the Taiwanese, potential war and its consequences remain very real while Australians-and those “beating the drums of war”-may not fully comprehend what a war with China would entail. Luckily, this polling ultimately shows that most Australians agree setting Australia on a path to war is not in our best interests.

“Australia’s national interests-which at the very least include the security of the nation, the prosperity of our people, the stability of the region in which we live and the pursuit of constructive internationalism as a means of maintaining global stability-are not served by clarion calls to war.” said Behm.

“I was astonished that a similar number of Australians think China will launch an armed attack on Australia as in Taiwan. It is doubtful that any military planner in the world that would agree with this assessment, which begs the question of what is stoking this fear,” said Melissa Conley Tyler, Research Associate in the Asia Institute of The University of Melbourne, and report co-author.

“So, in a crisis, could Taiwan rely on Australia? With these polling numbers, I would advise Taiwanese not to be sure” said Melissa Conley Tyler.

About the authors:

Allan Behm is head of International & Security Affairs at the Australia Institute. He specialises in political and security risk evaluation, policy analysis and development, and negotiating the policy/politics interface. Following a career spanning nearly thirty years in the Australian Public Service, Allan Behm was Chief of Staff to Minister for Climate Change and Industry Greg Combet (2009 to 2013), and senior advisor to the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Penny Wong (2017-19).

Melissa Conley Tyler is a research associate at the University of Melbourne’s Asia Institute. She is currently in Taiwan as a visiting fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, funded by a Ministry of Foreign Affairs Taiwan Fellowship.

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