Australia’s Global Relations
AUSTRALIANS’ TRUST IN GLOBAL POWERS
At a time when world events are rapidly evolving, and the global order appears to be shifting, Australians are placing their trust in Western allies and friends. The clear exception is the United States. When we ask Australian adults how much they trust a range of countries ‘to act responsibly in the world’, a bare majority (55%) say they trust the United States either ‘a great deal’ or ‘somewhat’ to act responsibly. This is a six-point fall since 2017, a very substantial 28-point drop since 2011, and the lowest level of trust in the United States recorded since we first asked this question in the 2006 Lowy Institute Poll.
The United Kingdom earns Australians’ highest level of trust, as it did in 2017, and this despite its vote to exit from the European Union – a move not favoured by Australians when we asked them in 2016. Almost all adult Australians (90%) trust the United Kingdom to act responsibly in the world. Japan is trusted by 87% of Australians, and France by 84%. Further behind, India is trusted by 59% of Australians, which places it ahead of the United States in Australians’ level of trust. China and the United States are not statistically separable on the question of trust, with 52% of Australians trusting China to the same degree as they trust the United States. Russia is trusted by only 28% of Australians (down ten points since 2017), and North Korea by 8% (down four points).
CONFIDENCE IN WORLD LEADERS
US President Donald Trump appears to be a significant factor in Australians’ declining trust in the United States. Few Australians (30%) have either ‘a lot’ or ‘some’ confidence in President Trump ‘to do the right thing regarding world affairs’. Almost half of adult women (49%) have no confidence ‘at all’ in the President, compared with 30% of men. On a list of nine world leaders, President Trump is only placed ahead of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on this measure of confidence.
Australians’ confidence in world leaders corresponds strongly with their trust in the nations those leaders govern. UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe top the list, with 68% and 66% of Australians respectively expressing their confidence in these leaders. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is close behind, with 63% of Australians saying they have either a lot of or some confidence in him to do the right thing regarding world affairs. New French President Emmanuel Macron has earned the confidence of 61%.
There is a significant gap between Western leaders and others. Australians are wary of Chinese President Xi Jinping, with a minority (43%) expressing confidence in him. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi carries the confidence of just over a third (37%) of Australians – although this places him seven points ahead of Donald Trump (30%). Only 19% of Australians have confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin, and 5% in North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Since 2017, there has been a lively public debate about the threat of foreign interference in Australia’s political processes, with revelations of connections between wealthy Chinese donors and Australian politicians. Despite the intensity of this debate, Australians do not appear to be particularly concerned about the possibility that such connections are a threat to Australian democracy. ‘Foreign interference in Australian politics’ is seen as a critical threat by a minority (41%) of Australians. It ranks lower in threat perceptions than terrorism (66%), North Korea’s nuclear program (66%), climate change (58%), the threat of cyberattacks (57%), prospect of a global economic downturn (50%).Although public debate in 2017 revolved around the threat of Chinese influence, Australians’ concerns appear to be focused on foreign influence generally, rather than the threat posed by China specifically. When asked about influence from both China and the United States in Australia’s political processes, only marginally more Australians (63%) expressed concern about China than those concerned about the influence of the United States (58%).