Canadians feel more connected and positive toward Asia than they did two years ago, and are more optimistic about future relations with the region, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada’s 2016 National Opinion Poll: Canadian Views on Asia finds.
Across a number of key metrics – from trade agreements to collaboration on education – Canadian support for co-operation with Asian partners has increased.
And in the case of China – Canada’s largest trading partner in Asia and its second largest globally – Canadians have warmed to the country since 2014.
Nearly half of Canadians (49%) see the growing importance of China as more of an opportunity than a threat, while one-quarter (24%) say the Canada-China relationship is improving. Furthermore, 50 per cent of Canadians say they could probably be persuaded to support a closer economic relationship with China if more information was available.
Meanwhile, Canadians feel more connected to the Asia Pacific region than they did in 2014.
Over one-third (34%) of Canadians consider Canada part of the Asia Pacific region, up from just 22 per cent in 2014. This feeling of belonging to the Asia Pacific region translates into increased support for Canadian policies that advance economic and cultural engagement with Asia.
Our 2016 National Opinion Poll describes a Canada increasingly positive about trade and collaboration with partners in Asia. Canadians report warmer feelings than they did in 2014 toward China, India, Japan, and South Korea, while 61 per cent of Canadians agree we should open more provincial trade offices in Asia, up from 45 per cent in 2014. Similarly, support for cultural exchanges and education on Asia has jumped in the past two years – up from 53 per cent to 69 per cent for exchanges, and from 43 per cent to 59 per cent for education.
Overall, Canadians are more optimistic about Asia, its growth, and Canada’s relationships with its member economies than they were two years ago. In 2014, for example, only 46 per cent of Canadians said Asia was important to their province’s prosperity; in 2016, that number jumped to 60 per cent. And 48 per cent of Canadians believe economic and political relations with Asia should be Canada’s top foreign policy priority, up from 37 per cent two years ago. On the trade front specifically, almost half (46%) of Canadians support a free trade agreement (FTA) with China, up from 36 per cent in 2014. Support for FTAs is even higher for Japan (2016: 72%; 2014: 56%), India (2016: 55%; 2014: 38%), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (2016: 54%; 2014: 37%).
While optimism informs much of Canadian views on Asia in 2016, there are some aspects of engagement with Asia that Canadians still find disconcerting, particularly in connection with the Chinese government’s policies at home and abroad. Nearly half of Canadians (46%) believe there will be a significant military conflict in the Asia Pacific in the next 10 years (up from 43% in 2014), with 65 per cent of Canadians citing China’s growing military power as a threat to the region (up from 60% in 2014).
And while Canadians are relatively positive on private investment from Asia, they remain distrustful of foreign state-owned enterprises (SOEs) investing in Canada. That feeling is highest with China (only 11% support investment by Chinese SOEs in Canada), followed by Malaysia (13%) and India (20%).
Canadians are feeling more connected to the Asia Pacific region than they were two years ago, with one-third (34%) of Canadians identifying Canada as part of the Asia Pacific region, up from just 22 per cent in 2014.
Canadians also view Asia as increasingly important to their economic prosperity. In 2014, for example, only 46 per cent of Canadians said Asia was important to their province’s prosperity; in 2016, that number jumped to 60 per cent.
Support for provincial trade offices in Asia, for instance, is 61 per cent, up from 45 per cent in 2014. Likewise, support for placing emphasis on teaching Asian history and culture in schools is 59 per cent, up from 43 per cent in 2014.
Almost half (46%) of Canadians support a free trade agreement with China, up from 36 per cent in 2014. Support for an FTA is even higher for Japan (2016: 72%; 2014: 56%), India (2016: 55%; 2014: 38%), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (2016: 54%; 2014: 37%).
Canadians strongly (69%) support efforts by universities in their home provinces to increase exchanges and education ties to Asian schools.
There is also majority support for placing more emphasis on Asia in the classrooms of provincial education systems. Fifty nine per cent of Canadians support increased content focused on Asia, up from 43 per cent in 2014.
In Atlantic Canada, 74 per cent of respondents support increasing the number of student exchanges.
On the other side of the country, British Columbia is the most in favour of emphasizing education about Asia in the provincial education system, with 63 per cent of respondents supporting Asian content in the classroom, and more than 50 per cent supporting teaching Asian languages to high-school students.
Canadians’ views on China are increasingly optimistic on economic matters. Canadians have warmed on China since 2014, with almost half (49%) agreeing that China’s rise is an opportunity more than a threat (43% disagreed), up from 41 per cent in 2014 (when 47% disagreed).
Canadians are also open to a closer economic relationship with China. Twenty per cent say they are supportive of Canada having a closer economic relationship with China, while half (50%) say they would be open to persuasion on closer co-operation if they had more information.
Close to half (48%) of Canadians think that strengthening economic and political relations with Asia should be Canada’s top foreign policy priority, up from 37 per cent in 2014. However, Canadians are more comfortable engaging with Asia on some issues than others. Although most Canadians think a military conflict in the Asia Pacific will affect Canadian security, only four in 10 Canadians agree that we should commit to being more involved in regional security initiatives.
When it comes to human rights, however, Canadians are broadly supportive of Ottawa incorporating the promotion of human rights into foreign policy. Three-quarters (76%) say the government should raise human rights issues, rather than leaving these issues as a local concern for countries to address on their own. Also, most Canadians are willing to risk lost commercial opportunities, to some degree, if human rights concerns exist – 51 per cent say Canada can afford to stop doing business with Asia over human rights concerns. Not surprisingly, a majority (59%) of Canadians agree that promoting democracy in Asia should be a major priority for the Government of Canada.
By arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post