Australians’ views on Chinese government are ‘less favourable’

The COVIDpoll by the Lowy Institute found Australians are “less favourable” towards China’s system of government, thinking about the COVID-19 outbreak.

Lowy polling research fellow Natasha Kassam told she thought this may be a reflection of how well Australia has handled the crisis.

At the beginning of the crisis, Ms Kassam said some were worried democracies such as Australia would not be able to tackle the coronavirus with as much efficiency as China did in the early stages, by locking down entire cities and building new hospitals.

“At the time there were real concerns China’s actions to quarantine cities and sources of the outbreak couldn’t be replicated in non-authoritarian systems,” she said.

“You can see how so many countries have struggled in the face of this.

“But in democratic countries like Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan, that is clearly not the case.”

There has been an overwhelming approval of the Morrison Government’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak with 93 per cent of Australians saying Australia has handled the outbreak “very” or “fairly well” so far.

“This is incredibly high and I think Australians have expressed a resounding vote of confidence in Australia’s handling of COVID-19, with high marks to the chief medical officers, and state and territory governments,” Ms Kassam said.

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Australians approve of how the Morrison Government has handled the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: Lukas Coch/AAPSource:AAP

The online and telephone survey conducted by the Social Research Centre got the views of 3036 nationally representative adults in Australia between April 14 and 27.

About 59 per cent of those surveyed said the prime minister and government ministers were their preferred source of information about the coronavirus.

“I think it’s interesting that Australians have looked to ministers and government websites to receive information, I think it’s a vote of confidence and shows a high level of trust in the government response,” Ms Kassam said.

About 92 per cent said they were “very” or “somewhat confident” chief medical officers were doing a good job. About 86 per cent said this of state and territory governments and 82 per cent of the federal government.

This compares to just 59 per cent who had confidence in the World Health Organisation.


The COVID-19 crisis also seems to have tempered Australians’ expectations of China’s power in the future.

About 37 per cent said they thought China would be “more powerful” than it was before the crisis, but this is a lot lower than in 2009, after the global financial crisis when 72 per cent thought China would be more powerful.

“That’s a real shift in how Australians see China’s power in the world,” Ms Kassam said.

About 27 per cent believe China will be less powerful, with about 36 per cent saying it will be “just as powerful”.

Ms Kassam said Australian sentiment towards China had declined in the last two years.

Last year a separate Lowy survey showed only 32 per cent trusted China, a “really huge” drop of 20 points from the year before.

“However, even when the bilateral relationship has been bad in the past, the economic relationship has thrived,” Ms Kassam pointed out.

“Last year we were in the diplomatic freezer but two-way trade went up 20 per cent.”

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The coronavirus pandemic has changed how Australia sees Chinese power. Picture: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how Australia sees Chinese power. Picture: Lintao Zhang/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

There has been increasing reports of racism towards Asians in Australia and Ms Kassam said she hoped Australians would be able to tell the difference between decisions of the Chinese government and the views of Chinese people.

“In 2016, we asked Australians what influenced their perception of China and 85 per cent said meeting Chinese people gave them a more positive view of China,” she said.

“We have to have faith that the majority of Australians are able to identify the difference between decisions of the Chinese government and the views of Chinese people, and Australians of Chinese background.

“Of course, there have been incidents that show some conflation going on, which is really concerning.”


Among the other countries polled, 79 per cent of Australians also thought Singapore had handled COVID-19 very or fairly well.

Less than a third of Australians said the United Kingdom had handled the outbreak well, while only 15 per cent said Italy had handled it well.

However, the United States was at the bottom of the list of countries, with only 10 per cent of Australians saying it had handled the outbreak “very” or “fairly well”.

Interestingly, US President Donald Trump saw an improvement in his support among Australians, with 23 per cent favouring his re-election in 2020, which is a 12-point increase since the 2016 election.

Ms Kassam said she thought the improvement to Mr Trump’s numbers reflected the uncertainty around his presidency in 2016.

“He’s still not popular but maybe he’s a known entity now,” she said.

Australians think the US has handled the crisis badly but support has grown for Donald Trump, although it’s still very low. Picture: Mandel Ngan/AFP

Australians think the US has handled the crisis badly but support has grown for Donald Trump, although it’s still very low. Picture: Mandel Ngan/AFPSource:AFP

“There was a sense during some of those (Republican) primaries that he (Trump) was going to trash all the alliances and walk away from the United Nations. That picture doesn’t align with what’s happened today,” Ms Kassam said.

“For Australia, Trump’s unpredictability has been frustrating but not devastating.”

About 73 per cent of those surveyed said they would prefer Joe Biden as the next US president, equal to Australian support for Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008.

America’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has also changed Australia’s views of its influence in the world.

About 55 per cent of Australians now believe the US will be “less powerful” than it was before the crisis. This is 20 points higher than in 2009, when only 33 per cent thought its power would decline.

Now only 6 per cent of Australians believe the US will be “more powerful” and 41 per cent thought it would be “just as powerful”.

In contrast, 37 per cent believe China will be more powerful.


Despite the upheaval the global pandemic has caused, about 70 per cent of Australians still believe globalisation is “mostly good for Australia”, which is unchanged from 2019.

About 53 per cent want “more global co-operation rather than every country putting their own interests first” during global crises.

And once the pandemic is contained, 59 per cent are still as willing to travel as they were prior to the outbreak.

“Australians have always been globalists and outward looking, we haven’t succumbed to protectionism and populism of other countries and that’s still true today,” Ms Kassam said.

“We still believe globalism is good and still want to travel.

“Remaining positive and wanting more global co-operation during crises speaks to our national character on some level.”

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