Chinese business leaders think Australia is a great place to invest but are skeptical of international relations

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Chinese business leaders have ranked Australia as the most attractive destination for overseas investment but there are mixed results when it comes to Australia-China relations and some surprising knowledge gaps.

The insights were revealed in the results of a poll measuring the attitudes of more than 1000 Chinese executives towards Australia, commissioned by the Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and conducted by American-based Zogby Research Services.

Australia was right behind Germany and Canada with a 93% favourable rating in terms of business leaders’ overall impressions of other countries.

When considering the attractiveness of a country for investment purposes, Australia tops the list, with 74% of respondents keen on the Aussie marketplace.

How Chinese elites view Australia survey. Report: Zogby Research Services.

There has been a massive wave of cashed-up investors from China throwing money at Australian residential property and it’s not primarily motivated by immediate rental returns or eventual profits. A study by Hong Kong-based equity brokers CLSA revealed China is now the number one source of foreign-capital investment in Australian real estate.

How Chinese elites view Australia survey. Report: Zogby Research Services.

Key reasons include the increasing emigration options made available through foreign property investment and the safety benefits of portfolio diversification.

Despite their positions as business leaders, only three-quarters of all Chinese respondents were aware of the 2014 China-Australia Free Trade Agreement; 44% think that Australia and China have a formal alliance agreement; and 39% think that Australia has such an agreement with Japan.

Chinese executives were also skeptical of relations between Australia and China, with just 17% of respondents identifying Australia as a “close ally”. China’s relationship with Russia is clearly perceived as positive, with almost 40% of respondents labeling the northern Eurasian nation as a “close ally”.

How Chinese elites view Australia survey. Report: Zogby Research Services.

The United States was seen as an “enemy of China” by 35% of Chinese business leaders.

If given the choice between visiting the United States or Australia, Chinese respondents prefer Australia by a margin of two to one.

While the Chinese see the U.S. educational system as having a better reputation and as better at preparing students for the 21st century world of work, Australia is rated better for cost and for providing students greater security and a better lifestyle.

And when compared with South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia, Australia is considered the most significant player in the Asia-Pacific region.

Director of ACRI, former foreign minister and NSW premier, Bob Carr said: “The poll shows Australia-China relations are running very strongly.”

“Prime Minister Abbott should be very pleased with these results. They reflect the big impact on Chinese opinion of President Xi’s visit to Australia in November last year. The visit climaxed with the commitment to a free trade agreement and a comprehensive strategic partnership.”

“Eighty one per cent of Chinese thought the Australian government was welcoming of closer economic ties.”