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I had the privilege of releasing the results of our 2012 National Opinion Poll on 23 April in a speech to the Economic Club of Canada in Ottawa. Our survey found that Canadians are paying more attention to Asia, that they understand the importance of Asia for Canadian prosperity, and believe that the rise of China and India is more of an opportunity than a threat. At the same time, Canadians have cool feelings about many Asian countries and continue to be apprehensive about investment from Chinese state-owned enterprises. There is also limited support for more teaching about Asia and of Asian languages despite a strong majority believing that China’s global influence will surpass that of the United States in a decade. Canadians are reluctant to identify with the Asia Pacific region, with only 27 percent agreeing that the country is part of the Asia Pacific region.
These mixed views form the backdrop for a renewed focus on Asia by Ottawa. My speech, entitled “Getting Back in the Game”, credits the government for the gusto and determination with which it is pursuing trade and investment deals with Asian countries. It also points out, however, that Canada is playing catch-up on relations with Asia because of a period of neglect spanning over a decade. There should be no illusion about the effort that will be needed if we are to catch up in our trade, investment, diplomatic, security, and institutional relations with Asian countries.
When asked if “strengthening economic and political relations with Asia should be Canada’s top foreign policy priority”, a robust 55 percent of Canadians agreed. This is an important source of validation for the government’s increased focus on Asia. While we are some distance from making Asia the “top” foreign policy priority, there is no question that Asia is on the Ottawa policy agenda in a way that we have not seen since the 1970s. Our research makes clear that Canadians understand the importance of Asia for their futures. It also shows that Canadians are looking for clear direction from governments and the private sector on how to execute an Asia strategy. The Prime Minister has been vocal on the importance of Asia for Canada’s trade diversification: there is an opportunity now for him to articulate why, to do so successfully, we need a full-fledged Asia strategy.