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Australians see China as military threat: poll

by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) April 25, 2011
Almost half of Australians believe China will become a military threat in the next 20 years and a majority believe Canberra is allowing too much Chinese investment, according to a poll released Monday.

The survey of 1,002 Australians, commissioned by the Lowy Institute foreign policy thinktank, found 44 percent saw China as a looming defence threat.

Of those, 87 percent said it would be because Australia would be drawn into any conflict with China as an ally of the United States.

Released as Prime Minister Julia Gillard headed for her first visit to China as leader, the poll found 75 percent saw China's growth as good for Australia but 57 percent thought there was too much Chinese investment Down Under.

A majority, 58 percent, also thought Canberra was not doing enough to pressure Beijing on human rights, though that was down from 66 percent a year earlier, Lowy research fellow Fergus Hanson said.

The number who thought Australia should join with other countries to limit China's influence also fell from the previous year from 55 percent to 50 percent.

Slightly more than half (52 percent) supported Australia joining a coalition to defend South Korea if it was attacked by the North.

"And if China, Australia's largest trading partner, intervened to support North Korea against South Korea, even more -- 56 percent -- were in favour of sending Australian forces to help the South," said Hanson.

Gillard has pledged to urge China to help tame North Korea and soothe tensions on the Korean peninsula during her visit, which begins late Monday

Michael Wesley, director of the Lowy Institute said the poll reflected the complexities of Australia's relationship with China, with whom it conducts annual trade worth some US$50.6 billion.

"The results show just how difficult it will be for Ms Gillard to balance the economic demands of the relationship with the Australian public's concerns about human rights abuses in China, its military expansion and negative perceptions about Chinese investment in Australia," Wesley said.

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