Does Chinese aid make Australians more generous?
China giving aid to the Pacific isn’t new, but in recent years ‘China the aid donor’ has become an unavoidable presence. In response, the Australian government is increasing the Pacific focus of its aid. It has also established a lending facility to fund infrastructure work. China is changing the way Australia’s political elites are thinking about aid.
What about the average Australian though? Does their thinking change if they’re told about Chinese aid in the Pacific? Do they think Australian aid should increase in response? Do they think Australia should focus more on the Pacific? Do they think Australia should change the values underpinning its giving?
We sought to answer these questions in a recent research collaboration. Because media commentary about China ranges from sober analysis to alarmist hyperbole, we also sought to learn whether spin designed to make Chinese aid seem as threatening as possible was more effective in changing views about aid than measured analysis.
To answer our research questions, we conducted an experiment involving a public opinion survey run on a broadly representative sample of just over 2,000 Australians, in which participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups:
- A “sober analysis” group that received a short article on Chinese aid in the Pacific. This article was balanced and factually accurate, and similar to a newspaper piece.
- A “alarmism” group that received a similar article. This article was still factually accurate but facts and opinion were spun to make China’s Pacific aid appear particularly threatening.
- A control group that received no article and no information on China.
Participants in each of the groups were subsequently asked whether: