Wed, Jan 07, 2015 - Page 5 News List

Australians reject siding with Japan over China

ISLANDS DISPUTE:A survey about what Australia should do if a conflict broke out between Japan, the US and China, found only 15 percent backed a Japan-US alliance

AFP, SYDNEY

Australians would overwhelmingly reject siding with close ally Japan against top trade partner China over a dispute in the East China Sea and prefer to remain neutral, according to a survey published yesterday.

Beijing and Tokyo have been engaged in a long and bitter battle over ownership of a contested island chain also claimed by Taiwan, the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台列嶼), known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

Australia has a long-standing military alliance with Japan’s close ally the US, which could arguably see it drawn into the dispute, but a poll commissioned by the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology, Sydney, suggested that 71 percent of Australians would prefer to remain neutral should a conflict arise.

“The poll confirms Australians overwhelmingly want their country to stay neutral,” said former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr, director of the institute, an independent research think tank.

Asked what Australia should do if armed conflict broke out between Japan, the US and China over the islands, only 15 percent said they supported backing a Japan-US alliance.

Four percent said Australia should back China and 9 percent were unsure, the poll of more than 1,000 Australians found.

Should the US president call and ask the Australian prime minister to join in supporting Japan, 68 percent said Australia should declare itself neutral and not make a military contribution.

Fourteen percent said Canberra should join its allies in war, while 17 percent were unsure.

Carr said as far as the public was concerned, Australia was not obliged under the Australia-New Zealand-US (ANZUS) treaty to make a commitment.

The treaty binds Australia, New Zealand and the US to cooperate on defense matters.

“We know that Australians overwhelmingly support the ANZUS treaty, but this poll confirms they do not want it invoked in conflict between China and Japan over the islands in the East China Sea,” Carr said.

Australia and Japan have recently moved to strengthen military and economic ties, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described Canberra as Tokyo’s “best friend,” but China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, with the two-way flow exceeding A$150 billion (US$122 billion).

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