Promoting Economic Ties an Effective Way to Improve Human Rights, APF Canada Opinion Panel Finds

Vancouver, B.C. – February 6, 2012 – As Prime Minister Harper heads to China this week, he will be pressed to strike a balance between the promotion of commercial interests and attention to human rights. He can take encouragement from a new opinion poll published today by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada which found 65% of Canadians with professional interests in Asia believing that promoting economic ties is the most effective way to improve human rights in the region.

The Points of View Asia Pacific opinion panel survey found that economics and human rights are increasingly viewed as two sides of the same coin. Nearly 73% agree there is a strong case for conducting business in Asia using a human rights approach. There was equally strong support for the idea that Canada should raise human rights issues in its relations with Asian countries. However, 62% feel that such actions over the past decade have made no real difference to the human rights situation in Asian countries.

Respondents were critical about the current state of human rights in Asia with 41% considering the situation to be ‘poor.’ The majority of Asian countries received poor ratings with North Korea (93%), Burma (90%), Pakistan (76%) and China (72%) topping the list. Corruption was identified as the most serious human rights issues in Asia (50%) - with 83% of respondents having witnessed it or heard first-hand accounts. Other top human rights concerns include free and fair elections, and freedom of expression. In contrast, respect for indigenous rights, freedom of association, labour laws, and freedom of religion were not ranked among the most serious of human rights issues in Asia.

“Building stronger economic ties with China is not antithetical to the promotion of human rights ,” said Mr. Yuen Pau Woo, president and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. "The poll reveals an ambivalence about our human rights promotion efforts in Asia -- on the one hand, strong support for human rights issues to be part and parcel of Canada's relations with Asian countries; on the other hand, skepticism about the efficacy of such efforts."

He added: "The key is to identify areas of human rights development which can make a difference in Asia. One area which found very strong support in our poll was the provision of assistance to build legal infrastructure to enforce human rights. If our human rights policy is to be any more than posturing, we must focus on areas where Canada has something tangible to offer and where there is receptivity for change.”

The full survey results on human rights in Canada-Asia relations can be viewed here.

The Points of View Asia Pacific is an opinion panel of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada, sponsored by Cathay Pacific Airways, that comprises of 645 individuals who are connected to or engaged in Asia through professional interests. It is a unique medium through which Canada’s growing community of Asia practitioners can voice their opinions and views on policy issues of the day that relate to Canada’s relations with Asia. Surveys on issues related to Canada-Asia relations will be issued on a bi-monthly basis. Data was collected between January 19-27 and a total of 195 people completed the survey questionnaire. The response rate for this survey was 30%. The margin of error for the total sample of 195 is ±7.0%, 19 times out of 20.

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About APF Canada

The Asia Pacific Foundation is an independent resource for Canadians on contemporary Asia and Canada-Asia relations. As a national not-for-profit organization established by an Act of the Federal Parliament in 1984, the Foundation brings together people and knowledge to provide the most current and comprehensive research, analysis and information on Asia and on Canada's transpacific relations. It promotes dialogue on economic, security, political and social issues, helping to inform public policy, the Canadian public and Canada’s Asia practitioners. The Foundation is funded principally through an endowment from the Government of Canada and by corporate and individual donors.

For additional information, please contact:

Trang Nguyen
Communications Manager
Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada
Tel: 604-630-1540
Email: trang.nguyen@asiapacific.ca