The Guardian 6 April, 2005


Australian views
a shock for PM Howard

Prime Minister Howard would have received a sharp shock when the Lowy Institute published the findings of a survey it took of Australians' views on a number of foreign affairs issues.

Perhaps the unkindest cut was the fact that when the 1000 Australians were asked their opinion of a number of countries only 58% gave a positive assessment of the United States as against 69% for China.

The standing of the US ranked only a few points above the attitude of Australians to Indonesia (52%). Following the intense newspaper demonisation of Islam and Arab countries it is not surprising that Iran (24%) and Iraq (23%) trailed the field.

But the shocks for Howard did not end there. When asked whether Australia's foreign policy was too heavily influenced by the USA and the United Nations, 68% said Australia paid "too much" attention to the views of the US while only 14% said that Australia paid too much attention to the views of the United Nations. Only 29% said Australia paid the right amount of attention to the views of the US as against 48% for the UN. Only 2% thought we paid too little attention to the views of the US while 33% said we paid too little attention to the UN.

In what can only be regarded as a direct criticism of the Howard government 65% of Australians think we are a "follower not a leader".

Another question was about the aims of Australia's foreign policy. Improving the global environment topped the list with 91% saying that it was "very important" or "fairly important". "Promoting democracy" in other countries came last in a list of 11 options no doubt Howard's last two forays into "promoting democracy" in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a bad taste in Australian mouths.

But there is a fear of countries developing nuclear weapons, possibly reflecting campaigns of the US and Australian governments claiming that Iran and North Korea are developing nuclear weapons and might use them against us.

Once again indicating a positive attitude towards China the survey found that only 35% are worried about "China's growing power". China came last on a list of 10 other worries by the Australian people. US foreign policies and Islamist fundamentalism ranked the same percentage (57%) as posing a threat to the outside world. While 72% thought that the US alliance was very important the survey found that an equal number are opposed to siding with the US should there be a conflict over Taiwan.

Perhaps it was these critical findings that induced Howard to launch into a major foreign policy speech when the Lowy Institute launched its survey last week. It seemed that Howard was just discovering Asia having for so long followed the US like a puppy dog into the war in Iraq while beefing up the US alliance at every opportunity.

But there are no grounds for thinking that the Howard government will take any notice of the expressed views of the Australian people any more than his government took notice of the majority opposition to the invasion of Iraq.

Howard's attitudes towards Asia are accurately expressed in his encouragement of a US-Japan- Australia alliance which is obviously directed towards containing China and preventing the reunification of Taiwan with the Chinese mainland. With remarkable arrogance Howard put himself forward as an "honest broker" between China and the US on the issue of Taiwan.

The reality is that China does not need an "honest broker" on an issue which is a domestic affair Australia has declared its recognition that there is only "one China" that includes Taiwan, so what is there to negotiate?

Although the US has also has a declared policy of "one China" it is obviously encouraging the separatist movement in Taiwan both politically and by the supply of hi-tech weapons to the island. It is actions like these which are creating tensions in the Taiwan Straits not the "one China" resolution passed by the Chinese parliament.

The findings of the Lowy Institute should, however, deliver a warning to the government that the views of the Australian people are moving against the policies of the US, and against Howard's slavish following of anything and everything the Bush administration says and does.

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