Australians fear China but want its technology: Lowy Institute poll

Despite rising fears of China, more Australians want the government to focus on getting the best or cheapest technology rather than protecting against foreign state intrusion -- but it's close.

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(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

When it comes to deciding which foreign companies should be allowed to supply new technology for important services, 44% of Australians  surveyed say the government's first priority should be "protecting Australians from foreign state intrusion".

The figure is from the latest annual poll from the Lowy Institute for International Policy, released on Wednesday. The report describes it as "almost half" of the population.

"Significantly fewer (28% each) believe the government's first priority should be 'bringing the most sophisticated technology to Australia' or 'keeping prices down for Australian consumers'," the report said.

But flip that around. It also means that more than half of the population thinks that better or cheaper technology is the higher priority.

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(Image: Lowy Institute)

Unsurprisingly, there's a significant difference in opinion between age groups.

Among 18 to 29-year-olds, only 34% want the government to focus on protection, with 36% and 28% respectively wanting more sophisticated tech or lower prices.

Among the 65+ contingent, 51% want the focus on protection, with 22% and 26% respectively wanting more sophisticated tech or lower prices.

It's the first time the Lowy Institute has asked this question in its annual poll. It follows the Australian government's announcement in August 2018 that it has effectively banned Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE from Australia's 5G network rollouts.

"That decision appears to have gained the backing of many Australians," the Lowy Institute wrote.

Whether you read those figures as half-full or half-empty, it's clear that Australians are increasingly concerned about China.

"Australians' views towards China seem to have soured. In 2019, trust in and warmth towards China are at their lowest points in the poll's history," the report said.

Only 32% of Australians say they trust China to "act responsibly in the world". That's 20 points down from last year.

Also: Australia signals Indo-Pacific focus for Five Eyes

Only 30% of Australians have "a lot" or "some" confidence in Chinese president Xi Jinping to do the right thing in world affairs, a 13-point drop.

"Most Australians say that Australia's economy is too dependent on China and Australia should do more to resist China's military activities in our region. Scepticism continues about Chinese investment in Australia and China's intentions in the Pacific."

A solid majority of Australians believe that "China's infrastructure investment projects across Asia are part of China's plans for regional domination" (79%). Slightly more than half disagree with the statement "China's infrastructure investment projects across Asia are good for the region (52%).

Supplying international fibre optic links and 5G technology has been a key part of that investment.

"Australians may view our relationship with our largest trading partner, China, as of a similar priority to the United States, but only 4% say China is our best friend," the Lowy Institute wrote.

"This number has halved since 2017. The number of Australians saying the United States is our best friend is now five times higher than the number nominating China. Only 2% see Japan and 1% see Indonesia as Australia's best friend."

With the G20 Leaders' Summit taking place in Japan this coming weekend, Australia's relationship with China is a live political topic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the US-China trade war is causing "collateral damage" around the world.

That trade war has already wiped $30 billion from Huawei's revenue forecasts, which has led to Huawei's current PR offensive.

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