2018 a turning point . . .
It is by now a familiar observation that Canada-China relations are at their worst point in decades. According to a recent Pew Research poll, only 23 per cent of Canadians have a favourable view of China, the lowest in at least 15 years. According to the same survey, just three years ago more Canadians had a favourable than unfavourable view (48% vs. 40%, with the remaining undecided). Since then, a cascade of events and negative headlines have driven the 25-point drop. One significant factor was the detention of Canadian citizens Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wangzhou. But there are other issues at play.
Concerns about human rights . . .
Several recent public opinion polls indicate that concerns about human rights are also shaping Canadians’ increasingly negative views of China. In May, an Angus Reid poll showed that three-quarters of Canadians feel that human rights and the rule of law should be prioritized over economic issues in Canada’s relationship with China. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau channelled these concerns when he called out Beijing for its controversial policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. In response, China’s ministry filed a formal complaint against Canada. It is difficult to see how the two parties will find common ground on this issue, as Beijing considers both Hong Kong and Xinjiang to be part of its “core interests,” and its hardline approach to both regions is popular domestically.
Finding opportunities for engagement . . .
There are, however, potential bright spots in looking to improve the relationship. A forthcoming APF Canada National Opinion poll shows that younger Canadians tend to have warmer feelings toward China, and 80 per cent would support collaborating with China in trying to prevent another pandemic. Moreover, 65 per cent acknowledge China’s continued economic importance to Canada. Similarly, the Angus Reid analysis in May notes that overall, Canadians are aware that there are consequences to having a deteriorating relationship with China and recognize that it can be challenging to strike the right balance in this difficult but extremely important relationship.
- Canada West Foundation: Canadian views on Canada’s relationship with China
- The Globe and Mail: For Canada’s relationship with China, it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t
- Pew Research: Negative views of both U.S. and China abound across advanced economies