Li Qiang visit seen as test of China relationship

One-third of Australians will consider the nation’s policies on China when they go to the polls, a survey has revealed, as the federal government prepares for a test of the bilateral relationship.

Jun 12, 2024, updated Jun 12, 2024
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) and Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing last year. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (left) and Chinese Premier Li Qiang in Beijing last year. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

China’s Premier Li Qiang will arrive in Australia on Saturday for a four-day trip in what will be the first visit by a Chinese premier in seven years.

With a federal election in 2025, all eyes will be on the pair.

A poll from the Australia-China Relations Institute and the Centre for Business Intelligence and Data Analytics at the University of Technology Sydney revealed 35 per cent of Australians would factor Australia’s China policy into their vote.

In 2023 just under half of Australians believed Labor was best placed to handle Australia’s China policy, but a year later this figure has dropped to 40 per cent.

Meanwhile, the proportion of Australians who preferred the coalition in this area grew from 29 per cent in 2023 to 35 per cent in 2024, according to the survey of 2015 people.

About four in 10 Australians expressed satisfaction with the Albanese government’s management of China relations, a slight uptick from their opinion on the Morrison government’s efforts which left 34 per cent satisfied in 2022.

Some 70 per cent of Australians expressed mistrust of the Chinese government, with 71 per cent believing China to be a security threat to Australia and about half believing there is a possibility of military conflict with China within three years.

The future does not appear any brighter for the nations’ relationship, with only one-third of respondents believing relations will improve in the next three years.

Report authors Professor Paul Burke and Elena Collinson say the results are unsurprising.

“Recent experience with China’s economic coercion and wolf warrior diplomacy can hardly be forgotten,” they wrote in the report.

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“The public may well be registering that when it comes to the Albanese government’s formula for the relationship – ‘co-operate where we can, disagree where we must’ – it is hearing much more the former than the latter from its political leaders.”

Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley on Wednesday welcomed the visit from Mr Li.

“We wish the visit well, we wish the premier well,” she told Sky News.

“Our Chinese diaspora is wonderful and varied and has committed to the rich fabric of this country – I hope there’s a focus on them.”

Albanese and Li are expected to attend a community event during the visit, which could help address the perception of about half of Australians that tensions in the nations’ relationship are negatively impacting the Australian-Chinese community.

The federal government is also facing calls, including from former political prisoner Kylie Moore-Gilbert, to discuss the issue of detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun, who has been given a suspended death sentence in China.

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