Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project 2020–2023 Summary

Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project 2020–2023 Summary

The Lowy Institute’s Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project (2020–2023), funded by the Department of Home Affairs, comprised three nationally representative surveys of the Australian population of Chinese heritage and three Lowy Institute Analysis papers. A key aim of the Project was to investigate the sentiments of Chinese-Australian communities in the context of growing tensions in bilateral ties between China and Australia.

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Executive summary

The Lowy Institute’s Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project (2020–2023), funded by the Department of Home Affairs, comprised three nationally representative surveys of the Australian population of Chinese heritage and three Lowy Institute Analysis papers. A key aim of the Project was to investigate the sentiments of Chinese-Australian communities in the context of growing tensions in bilateral ties between China and Australia.

The cornerstone of the Project was the annual Being Chinese in Australia: Public Opinion in Chinese Communities survey report — with all three editions housed on a dedicated online platform. The three surveys conducted from 2020–2022 provide the most comprehensive study on public record of the perspectives of more than five per cent of the Australian population. Respondents were asked about their experiences as individuals of Chinese heritage living in Australia, including their attitudes towards both Australia and China; the impact of tensions in the Australia–China relationship on their sense of belonging; their experiences of discrimination; their trust in China and interactions with the Chinese government and affiliated organisations in Australia; their sources of news and information; and their attitudes towards democracy and other systems of government.

Complementing this quantitative research, the Lowy Institute also undertook qualitative in-depth discussions with a range of stakeholders from Chinese-Australian communities on the themes of the annual survey. In addition, three research papers were commissioned and published to explore the role, uses and challenges of Australia’s Chinese-language media, Chinese-Australian community organisations, and WeChat in electoral politics (using the 2021 New South Wales local council elections as a case study).

The papers sought to identify ways in which to enhance the resilience and maintain the social cohesion of Australian society amid a fraught geopolitical environment, which has — and will likely continue to — put particular strain on Chinese-Australian communities. These range from improving and supporting rigorous Chinese-language media reporting in Australia to broadening awareness of how social media platforms such as WeChat are used in Australia to promote political participation.

Altogether, the Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project has contributed a unique and extensive body of data and analysis to inform public and policy discussions on how Chinese-Australian communities see Australia and their place in it. This capstone report summarises the findings of the Project’s major outputs, including providing a consolidated analysis of three years of focus groups in the second half of the report.

Project aims

As set out in the grant agreement between the Lowy Institute and the Department of Home Affairs in May 2020, the aims of the Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project were to:

  • Explore how culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, and in particular the Chinese-Australian communities, participate in and contribute to society, and identify challenges they confront.
  • Assess attitudes among Chinese-Australians in Australia through public opinion polling.
  • Through qualitative research and in-depth discussions with key actors, understand the ways in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) interacts with Australian society, and Chinese-Australian communities in particular, and probe its effectiveness and the nature of its impact.
  • Investigate the complex range of sentiments and responses of Chinese-Australians to evolving relations between the Chinese government and Australian society through focus group discussions with participants drawn from Chinese-Australian communities, and test policy response mechanisms.
  • Identify ways to build the resilience of sectors of Australian society that may be vulnerable in the context of the evolving relationship between foreign governments and diaspora communities in Australia.
  • Develop analysis and policy recommendations based on the evidence provided through polling, focus groups and in-depth discussions with key actors.

Research design

Australia’s population of Chinese ancestry is dispersed and diverse. It accounts for multiple waves of immigration at different points in time, people who originated from mainland China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, and different native languages. It was therefore necessary to define the in-scope population for the Project broadly and in the simplest terms: that is, the Australian population over the age of 18 who identify as being of Chinese heritage.

To be included in the surveys, respondents had to live in Australia, identify as being of Chinese ancestry, be over the age of 18, and either be Australian citizens, permanent residents or holders of long-term visas. We excluded anyone who had resided in the country for less than one year, as well as tourist visa holders. This is similar to the way that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) excludes overseas visitors but includes Australian residents regardless of nationality in the population count.

Eight in ten surveyed (79%) in the poll were either Australian citizens or permanent residents. The remainder were long-term residents on a variety of work and skilled, study and training or family and partner visas. For the purposes of reporting the results of the survey and focus groups, respondents are referred to by the shorthand ‘Chinese-Australians’. However, it should be noted that the survey asked respondents to identify themselves and not all respondents with Chinese heritage opted to identify themselves as ‘Chinese-Australian’. Others preferred to describe themselves simply as ‘Chinese’, ‘Australian’ or indeed ‘Australian-Chinese’.

The number of completed survey responses differed year to year, ranging from 1000 to 1200. The sample design was representative of the Australian population of adults over the age of 18 who reported Chinese ancestry as either their first or second response to the 2021 ABS Census question. The profile of survey respondents was compared with ABS 2021 benchmarks (for the 2023 Being Chinese in Australia survey and ABS 2016 benchmarks for the 2021 and 2022 survey report) across age, gender, location and country of birth to determine the extent, if any, of response bias.

To triangulate the findings, the Institute convened focus groups in each of the three years the survey was conducted. Qualitative research sampling strategies use non-probability methods for selecting participants — that is, not all the target ‘population’ will have an equal chance of selection. Rather, characteristics of the ‘population’ of interest are used for the basis of selection, and quotas are then established. To that end, participant selection focused on creating groups that were reflective of the target population with consideration given to place of birth, age and gender (see Appendix II for focus group composition).

Major outputs and key findings

Over the past three years, three survey reports and three Lowy Institute Analysis papers have been published as part of the Multiculturalism, Identity and Influence Project. Key findings and indicators of influence are noted below (see Appendix I for a full list of project outputs).


2021 survey report and interactive

Survey report and interactive

2021 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities by Natasha Kassam and Jennifer Hsu.

Key findings

  • Chinese-Australians are positive about living in Australia and report a strong sense of belonging to both Australia and China. 
  • A sizeable minority of Chinese-Australians report experiencing discrimination over the past year, and point to Covid-19 and Australia–China relations as contributing factors to those experiences. 
  • Most Chinese-Australians trust China and see it as an economic partner, but would also support diversifying Australia’s economy and imposing sanctions on Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses.

Noteworthy media mentions and broadcasts

Translating Tension cover

Lowy Institute Analysis paper

Translating tension: Chinese-language media in Australia

by Fan Yang.

Key findings

  • Chinese-language media outlets in Australia are more likely to support Australian government policy than Chinese government policy when reporting on tensions in the Australia–China relationship, but editorialise to soften or remove criticism of China and the Chinese government.
  • This is, in part, because Chinese-language media outlets in Australia produce little original content, and instead translate and reproduce the majority of their content from Australian, rather than Chinese, news sources. Chinese-language media professionals say they prefer to republish Australian content because this helps Chinese migrants integrate into society.
  • However, self-censorship is embedded in these media organisations’ editorial processes. This is particularly the case for Chinese-language media outlets whose content is distributed to mainland China via WeChat, news apps, and websites. Outlets self-censor out of concerns for a loss of market share and reprisals from Beijing.

Noteworthy media mentions and broadcasts

Lines Blurred cover

Lowy Institute Analysis paper

Lines blurred: Chinese community organisations in Australia

by Jennifer Hsu, Richard McGregor and Natasha Kassam.

Key findings

  • Australia’s foreign interference debate and the souring of bilateral relations between China and Australia have left many Chinese-Australians and their community organisations caught in a contest for their loyalty. The Chinese Party-state actively reaches out to overseas Chinese communities, in Australia and elsewhere, to promote China’s political interests and economic development, with mixed results.
  • Australia’s efforts to combat this outreach have also had mixed results. A survey of Chinese-Australians found that many believed the new anti-foreign interference laws helped to protect community members from Beijing’s overtures. However, a greater number said attacks on the community in Australia — political, verbal and sometimes physical — had alienated Chinese-Australians and in some cases made them more receptive to messages critical of Australia.
  • Many Chinese-Australians said they had little or no engagement with Chinese community organisations. The newer organisations in particular, which often have closer economic ties to China, were not considered to be representative of broader community sentiment. The area in which community associations were reported to have the greatest traction was in promoting business opportunities in China.

Noteworthy media mentions and broadcasts


2022 survey report and interactive

Survey report and interactive

2022 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities by Jennifer Hsu and Natasha Kassam.

Key findings

  • Concern about Covid-19 topped the list of threats for Chinese-Australians in 2021, while the deterioration in bilateral relations was ranked second. Around half of respondents were concerned that fraught bilateral ties presented a critical threat to Australia's interests.
  • The majority of Chinese-Australians continued to see China as more of an economic partner to Australia than a security threat.
  • More Chinese-Australians said they were concerned about China’s foreign influence on Australia’s political processes. Around half of respondents said the media, the public and politicians are paying the right amount of attention to the issue of foreign interference more broadly.
  • Chinese-Australians were divided about the merits and drawbacks of China’s system of government, and a similar split existed within the community as to whether democratic systems or non-democratic systems were preferable.

Noteworthy media mentions and broadcasts

WeChat's Role in Australian Democracy

Lowy Institute Analysis paper

WeChat’s role in Australian democracy: A grassroots view

by Xueyin Zha.

Key findings

  • Despite its inherent risks and drawbacks, the Chinese messaging app WeChat played a vital role as a medium of outreach and democratic participation for Chinese-Australians during the 2021 New South Wales local council elections.
  • Censorship of Australian WeChat content did occur but appeared to have little effect on the publishing decisions or online reach of Australian-based Chinese-language media outlets in relation to local council election coverage.
  • It is possible to reap civic benefits from WeChat in Australia. To maximise these dividends, and offset the risk of foreign influence, creative governance strategies and greater support for rigorous Chinese-language journalism should be explored.

Noteworthy media mentions and broadcasts


2023 survey report and interactive

Survey report and interactive

2023 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities by Jennifer Hsu.

Key findings

  • Most Chinese-Australians have a positive view of Australia. A majority say that Australia is a good place to live and are proud of the Australian way of life and culture.
  • Australia tops the list of countries that Chinese-Australians trust most, and no leader we asked about was more trusted than Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
  • Chinese-Australians have varying degrees of trust in the information they consume. Most trust the English-language media in Australia to report news accurately and fairly. But they are divided as to whether Australian media reporting about China is too negative or fair and balanced.

Noteworthy media mentions and broadcasts

Focus groups

The findings of the focus groups were integrated into the survey reports and presented at briefings to the Department of Home Affairs over the past three years. However, this body of material is rich and varied in its own right (see Appendix II). To that end, the second half of this report is dedicated to an elaborated summary of focus group discussions divided into three themes: life in Australia, media use and consumption habits, and perspectives on Australia–China relations.

Life in Australia

Life in Australia and the everyday experiences of the country’s broad range of Chinese-Australian constituents were key themes explored in all focus groups.

For many foreign-born focus group participants, life in Australia was defined by the ‘bread and butter’ issues familiar to most immigrants, including learning the English language and adapting to the cultural norms and values of a new country.

Sense of belonging

In the 2023 Being Chinese in Australia: Public Opinion in Chinese Communities survey, 92 per cent of Chinese-Australians expressed a ‘moderate’ or ‘great’ sense of belonging to Australia. For many in the focus groups, national or cultural identity constituted an important element of an individual’s sense of belonging to a country. That is, their identity served to calibrate their feelings of proximity between homeland and new home. Participants also noted that the length of time spent living in Australia was an important factor in identifying culturally as Australian.


Across the three years of the Project and its focus groups, participants agreed that there was no singular Chinese identity in Australia. Rather, Chinese-Australians identify themselves using different markers, from the decade they arrived in Australia to their place of birth or origin.

Furthermore, Australian society’s multiculturalism and broad acceptance of cultural difference was seen positively by many focus group participants for whom these factors were an important part of Australia’s identity. However, some observed that their Chinese heritage often made them targets when expressing their views via social media.

English language

Having English language skills was seen as critical to integrating into wider Australian society, but many Chinese-Australians also recognised the need to learn about local culture and customs and be willing to extend one’s boundaries to achieve some sense of belonging. Conversely, a lack of English was seen as hampering one’s integration into the local community and acting as a barrier to forming social connections in Australia.


Participants, irrespective of their place of birth, saw perceived discrimination of CALD people, as well as their underrepresentation in public life, as being of growing concern to them. Many participants pointed to their own experiences of discrimination or those of family and friends. The onset of Covid-19 was seen as a turning point for increased rates of discrimination across not only Chinese but Asian communities in Australia.

Certain participants appeared resigned to the idea that some level of racism and discrimination would always be part of life in Australia. Of interest, those who recounted or relayed second-hand experiences of discrimination, described the events as occurring in public spaces and more often than not at random.

Legal and visa status

Perhaps unsurprisingly, legal status in Australia was described by some participants as impacting on their sense of security and belonging to Australia. A subset of focus group participants was in Australia on study, work or bridging visas (one year or more) and thus lacked the certainty or work rights of citizenship and permanent residency. As a result, they felt restricted in a range of daily activities, including work opportunities. The migration system was described as having unnecessarily long wait times and pathways to permanent residency that were difficult to navigate.

Media use and consumption habits

Among the Project’s key themes were the consumption of news and information, the role of Chinese-language media in Australia, perceptions of English-language media, and the use of Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat. This was also reflected in the focus group discussions,


Survey data show that WeChat remains one of the primary means by which Chinese-Australians access both English and Chinese-language news. Despite this, many participants in the focus groups appeared to have a healthy scepticism towards the platform. Censorship on WeChat by its China-based owner Tencent contributed to participants’ belief that the news published on the platform was biased or partial.

Nonetheless, WeChat is also a social networking tool. Some two-thirds of respondents in the poll said they used WeChat to maintain contact with family and friends. For many focus group participants, the primary utility of WeChat appeared to be as a place where community information and knowledge are pooled.

Social media

The information ecosystem of Chinese-Australians is not limited to WeChat. The 2023 Being Chinese in Australia survey report showed that alongside WeChat, two other online platforms — Facebook and YouTube — made up the top three social media apps most used on a daily basis by Chinese-Australians. Within the focus groups, participants appeared to be aware of the general unreliability of social media platforms and their potential for creating news and information ‘echo chambers’. Nevertheless, many especially younger Chinese-Australians said they valued social media because of the different voices that can be found on such platforms compared with traditional forms of media such as TV and print news.

Australian vs Chinese media

There was a general impression among many focus group participants across the three years that English-language media outlets were negatively biased in their portrayal of China. Some participants felt that this perceived typecasting of China, alongside media coverage of the pandemic, went so far as to harm public perceptions of Chinese-Australian communities and even created unnecessary tension within Australian society.

Yet participants still indicated they had greater trust in English-language media compared to Chinese-language media when it came to reporting news stories on China. In general, participants also believed that Chinese-language media presented less diversity of voices in comparison to English-language media. Participants who could access news in both English and Chinese believed that they received a more balanced intake of news stories.

Focus group participants also noted that the reporting of news in Mandarin by both ABC and SBS was very positive and well received.

Australia–China relations

Participants expressed different views on the factors behind the marked deterioration in Australia-China relations. In general, Chinese-Australians born outside of mainland China were more likely to share less sympathetic views of China.

Factors shaping bilateral relations

In explaining the decline in the relationship between Australia and China, participants often pointed to ‘insoluble’ differences in ideology and systems of government in the two countries. Others expressed optimism that both countries could still these differences aside to facilitate re-engagement. Still others thought that the countries should remain realistic and limit cooperation and engagement to issues of trade only.

Many participants in the first two years of focus groups (late 2020 to early 2022) blamed the previous Liberal Coalition government under former prime minister Scott Morrison for inflaming tensions through a lack of nuance or prudent diplomacy. Others went as far as to say that informal trade sanctions imposed by China on Australia were an act of self-defence on the part of China.

Participants in focus groups that were convened after May 2022, immediately after the Labor Party came to power, observed that the Albanese government had changed the language and tone of the government’s engagement with China. Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong was widely seen as more capable than her predecessor, and the minister’s Chinese heritage was perceived as an advantage in managing bilateral relations. 

The role of the United States was regarded by focus group participants as a complicating factor in the current and future shape of Australia’s relationship with China. Some participants questioned Australia’s independence from the United States when it came to foreign policy.

Impact of bilateral relations on social cohesion

It was often difficult for focus group participants to articulate how the state of bilateral relations affected their personal lives. As noted previously, encounters with discrimination were perhaps the easiest for many focus group participants to speak to. Others spoke more generally about how Australian political rhetoric had been harmful to Chinese-Australians. Many felt bilateral relations and associated events ‘just happen’ and there is very little that individuals can do about it, thus most seek to ‘get on with everyday life’.

Foreign interference

While debates on Chinese foreign interference may have featured prominently in headlines in recent years, most focus group participants professed to have little knowledge, let alone first-hand experience, of foreign interference. However, participants may not have felt that the focus group settings were an appropriate space to share such sensitive information had they experienced it.

Participants also appeared to have low levels of awareness of groups associated with China’s Communist Party (CCP) such as the United Front Work Department and its overseas affiliates including the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China (ACPPRC). To the extent that participants had knowledge of or had heard of such groups, the consensus was that these organisations had an explicitly political agenda furthering CCP interests abroad.

In recent years, attention on the role of ACPPRC in Australia has cast the activities of other Chinese-Australian community organisations into question. Lines blurred: Chinese community organisations in Australia, a Lowy Institute Analysis paper commissioned as part of this Project, showed that Beijing’s overtures were promoted by various community organisations claiming to speak on behalf of the Chinese-Australian community. However, interviewees rejected the notion that any single community organisation could speak with such authority.

In fact, China’s ‘meddling’ was seen by some participants as having created divisions within Chinese-Australian communities by triggering competition for access and legitimacy between community organisations. Other participants clearly believed that Beijing had pervasive transnational reach in Australia, for example, on issues to do with the rights of ethnic minorities such as Uyghurs.

However, the majority of focus group participants did not speak about foreign interference or indeed concerns about China’s human rights record. Where the foreign interference debate was felt most concretely by focus group participants was in the growing reluctance of Australian politicians to appear with Chinese-Australians and at related community events for fear of being targets of unwanted media attention.

Reach and impact

The three survey reports and interactives have been referenced and cited extensively by English-language and Chinese-language media outlets, domestic and international mastheads, and academic journals.

  • For instance, the inaugural 2021 Being Chinese in Australia survey report had a potential reach of 196 million readers of simplified Chinese when it was reported on (Chinese news site), 16 million readers of traditional Chinese via Lianhe (Chinese-language Asian-based news outlet), and 159 million readers in English when it was covered by
  • The potential reach of the third and final 2023 Being Chinese in Australia survey report was 178 million readers of simplified Chinese on, 90 million readers of English via The Guardian, and 37 million readers of Indonesian via (an Indonesian-based news outlet).

Other indicators of reach (see also Appendix I):

  • The dedicated interactive platform for the three survey reports has received a combined total of 43,000 unique views online.
  • Government briefings on the Project’s findings were delivered to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2021, Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in 2023, Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs in 2023, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2023, and the broader Australian Public Service in 2021, 2022 and 2023 through the National Security College’s China Literacy Course.
  • Over the course of three years, Dr Jennifer Hsu presented the survey findings at more than 20 roundtables, panels, lectures and workshops in Australia. 
  • Dr Jennifer Hsu’s notable media appearances included NHK World-Japan in May 2021, ABC’s Q&A in August 2022, and ABC RN Sunday Extra in April 2023.
  • Three public events were held as part of the Project: Migration Nation: Australia's foreign policy from a multicultural perspective (August 2022), and the 2023 Being Chinese in Australia: Public Opinion in Chinese Communities survey report launches (Sydney, April 2023 and Canberra, May 2023).


Appendix I: Project outputs
Author/s Title Output type Indicator of reach
Natasha Kassam and Jennifer Hsu 2021 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities Survey report and interactive 18,200* unique views
Jennifer Hsu The politics of being Chinese in Australia Op-ed in The Interpreter 3800 unique page views
Natasha Kassam, Jane Perlez and Richard McGregor Lowy Institute Conversations: Natasha Kassam and Jane Perlez on Australia and China Podcast 8600 plays/downloads
Fan Yang Translating tension: Chinese-language media in Australia Analysis 4000 unique page views
Fan Yang, Fergus Ryan and Jennifer Hsu Lowy Institute Conversations: Fan Yang and Fergus Ryan on Chinese-language media in Australia Podcast 17,100 plays/downloads
Jennifer Hsu, Richard McGregor and Natasha Kassam Lines blurred: Chinese community organisations in Australia Analysis 6000 unique page views
Jennifer Hsu and Natasha Kassam 2022 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities Survey report and interactive 16,000 unique views
Natasha Kassam and Jennifer Hsu Five key findings from the Being Chinese in Australia survey Op-ed in The Interpreter 2900 unique page views
Jennifer Hsu, Natasha Kassam and Richard McGregor Conversations: Being Chinese in Australia — Public Opinion of Chinese Communities Podcast 9800 plays/downloads
Xueyin Zha WeChat’s role in Australian democracy: A grassroots view Analysis 2200 unique page views
Xueyin Zha, Hervé Lemahieu and Jennifer Hsu Conversations: Xueyin Zha on WeChat’s role in Australian democracy as seen from the grassroots Podcast 5400 plays/downloads
Jennifer Hsu, Melissa Phillips, Jason Chai and Fethi Mansouri Migration Nation: Australia’s foreign policy from a multicultural perspective Public event, Sydney 70 people in attendance; 7100 plays/downloads as podcast; 800 YouTube views
Jennifer Hsu 2023 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities Survey report and website 10,000 unique views
Jennifer Hsu Chinese-Australians feel more at home Op-ed in The Interpreter 1300 unique page views
Jennifer Hsu and Hervé Lemahieu Chinese-Australian shouldn’t be limited to tick-box of citizenship, says Lowy Institute Op-ed in The Australian N/A
Jennifer Hsu, Lucy Du, Samuel Yang, Ryan Neelam 2023 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities survey report launch Public event, Sydney 100 people in attendance; 3600 plays/downloads as podcast; 1200 YouTube views
Jennifer Hsu, Jieh-Yung Lo, Yun Jiang, Pablo Viñales 2023 Being Chinese in Australia: Public opinion in Chinese communities survey report launch Public event, Canberra 100 people in attendance; 3400 plays/downloads as podcast
Appendix II: Focus group compositions
Year Count Location Age group Regional affiliation Total participants
2020–2021 1 Sydney 40 years + 6 x born o/s; 1 x Aus born 7
2 Sydney 18–40 years 5 x born o/s; 3 x Aus born 8
3 Melbourne 18–40 years 5 x born o/s; 1 x Aus born 6
4 Melbourne 40 years + 4 x born o/s 4
5 Online (Brisbane, regional QLD, Perth, Hobart) Mixed 4 x born o/s; 1x Aus born 5
2021–2022 6 Melbourne 20–39 years 8 (HK, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore) 8
7 Melbourne 20–59 years 8 (PRC) 8
8 Sydney 20–50 years 8 (PRC) 8
9 Sydney 20-60+ 8 (HK, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore) 8
2022–2023 10 Melbourne 20–59 years 8 x born or affiliated with mainland China e.g. through parents 8
11 Melbourne 20–60+ years 8 x not affiliated with mainland China 8
12 Sydney 20–59 years 8 x born or affiliated with mainland China e.g. through parents 8
13 Sydney 20–54 years 7 x not affiliated with mainland China 7
14 Adelaide 20–49 years 6 x born or affiliated with mainland China e.g. through parents 6
15 Brisbane 20–60+ years 9 x not affiliated with mainland China 9
Areas of expertise: China’s state-society relations, Chinese civil society, NGOs, development, social policy, philanthropy, Overseas Chinese communities, Australia-China relations