Australians divided on military support if China invades Taiwan

51 per cent said they were in favour of Australia defending Taiwan, while 47 per cent said they were against. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG) - Australians are sharply divided over whether to join any military action to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion, despite record-high levels of support for the US alliance and growing unease towards Beijing's intentions on the world stage.

A new survey released on Tuesday (June 28) by the Lowy Institute, a foreign policy research group, found only a slim majority of Australians supported military action in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

Out of those surveyed, 51 per cent said they were in favour of Australia using its military forces to defend Taiwan, while 47 per cent said they were against.

The unease over getting involved in a conflict comes despite record low levels of confidence in the Chinese government in the latest Lowy Institute Poll, a survey examining Australian attitudes to major foreign policy issues and challenges.

Australians' opinions of China have soured dramatically since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with just 12 per cent of those surveyed saying they trust Beijing to act responsibly in global affairs. In 2018, 52 per cent of Australians said they had faith in China.

Attitudes toward international conflicts and the potential for one in the region have changed dramatically as well in recent years. According to Lowy, only 53 per cent of Australians said they felt safe in the face of world events, down from 92 per cent in 2010.

Overall, 75 per cent of Australians said they thought it was likely China would become a military threat to their country in the next 20 years, the highest number on record and up from 46 per cent in 2018.

Ms Natasha Kassam, director of the Lowy Institute's Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Programme, said the survey showed Australians were "feeling very scared and very worried about what's happening in the region".

"You can see that Australians are trying to navigate this fear of China and this fear of Russia but at the same time, wanting to preserve the peace and security we have and don't want to be dragged into another forever war," she told Bloomberg TV.

Support for the US alliance is at an all-time high, according to Lowy, with 87 per cent saying the American military was important for Australia's security. But Australians' trust in the US has yet to recover from drops in support during the administration of former President Donald Trump.

Out of those surveyed, 65 per cent said they trusted the US to do the right thing in international affairs, behind Britain, Japan and France, and down from 83 per cent in 2011.

A majority of respondents said they were also concerned about US interference in Australia's political processes and 90 per cent said the political instability in America was a critical or important threat to Australia's future.

If the US decided to enter into a war with China independent of the questions over Taiwan, a majority of Australians said they would choose to remain neutral.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine was a concern for 92 per cent of those polled and 87 per cent said they were concerned by cooperation between China and Russia.

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine has shaken Australians' view of their own security and region," Ms Kassam said.

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