Canadians supportive but wary of Asian links: poll
Published: Monday, April 28, 2008
Canadians continue to be strongly supportive of developing commercial and other links with Asia, although they have become wary of some of the baggage that comes with that relationship.
In the latest of its annual surveys of Canadian attitudes toward the trans-Pacific relationship, the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada found the unbridled optimism evident in past polls has been tempered by concerns over environmental degradation, job losses, dangerous imports and doubts about the benefits of Asian immigration.
Yuen Pau Woo, president and co-chief executive of the foundation, said the survey was taken at the end of March at a time when Canadian concerns about the state of the economy and job losses were beginning to become evident.
“Support for globalization tends to follow the state of the economy, and the survey results reflect current concerns about economic conditions,” Woo said.
So there is significant support in Canada — 71 per cent nationwide and 67 per cent in B.C. — for protection of local companies against competing imports from low-wage Asian producers.
This is matched by a sharp decline in those who believe Asian immigration is of benefit to Canada, down to 57 per cent from 78 per cent in their 2006 survey.
At the same time, a majority (54 per cent) oppose allowing in more temporary workers to help ease labour shortages.
But, in a signal that a significant degree of self-interest is driving Canadian opinion, 66 per cent think foreign students in Canada should be encouraged to stay on and become immigrants.
Woo said it is going to be a test of federal and provincial government leadership to resist calls for protectionism and to maintain Canada's openness to the world.
The survey shows how thoroughly the global-warming issue has permeated the national consciousness.
Asian-fostered environmental degradation and its claimed impact on global warming came out top (at 23 per cent) of the threats to Canada.
A whopping 76 per cent of respondents think environmental degradation is Asia's biggest threat in the next decade.
Weapons of mass destruction possessed by places like North Korea, China, India and Pakistan weren't even in the same league, with only about 10 per cent of respondents naming each as a major threat.
But, interestingly, when those surveyed thought about it separately, 66 per cent believe China's rapid military modernization and rising military power is a threat to the region.
As usual, Canadian attitudes toward and views of China have been shaped by the ever-present barrage of China hype. (It must be confessed that 73 per cent of Canadians don't think they are getting adequate information about Asia, and blame the media for that.)
So there are inflated beliefs about China's current role in Canadian prosperity, and equally lavish expectations for its role in the future.
The survey found 36 per cent of respondents believe China represents a better target for Canadian exports and investment than does the United States. Nearly 60 per cent of Canadians believe China is second only to the U.S. in importance to Canadian prosperity.
This is not quite true — Britain is still our second-largest export market. But every country is an also-ran when over 80 per cent of our exports go to the United States.
As with views on relations with Asia in general, there are caveats and questions surfacing in Canadians' perceptions of China.
Nearly two-thirds of Canadians think China represents more of an opportunity for this country than a threat, and while 33 per cent think increased trade will result in job losses here, 43 per cent think that will be matched by the creation of more Canadian jobs.
More than 66 per cent of Canadians think China, along with India, will rival the U.S. as world superpowers within 10 years.
But recent allegations of poisonous substances in Chinese-produced pet food, children's toys, and processed foods destined for human consumption in Japan have clearly tainted the image of Chinese goods.
Only 18 per cent of those polled think Chinese products are as safe as those from other developing countries. And a mere 16 per cent think the quality of Chinese manufactured goods matches the quality of those from other low-wage countries.
At the same time, Canadians are nursing increased doubts about progress in civic and human rights in China.
In 2006, 63 per cent of Canadians polled thought the human rights situation was improving in China. Now only 37 per cent think that way.
For those interested in reviewing the entire APFC national opinion poll the results can be found at:
Sun International Affairs Columnist
To reach Jonathan Manthorpe, go to his blog at: www.vancouversun.com/blogs