Canadians Not Engaged Enough With Asia

While acknowledging the importance of Asia for Canada’s prosperity, Canadians appear less enthusiastic to act on opportunities in the region, according the 2013 National Opinion Poll released by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

“There is a growing discrepancy between Canadians’ understanding of Asia’s importance and their willingness to do something about it,” said Mr. Yuen Pau Woo, President and CEO of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. “More Canadians appear to be hesitating as they face tougher decisions about how to advance the Canada-Asia relationship.”

The 2013 National Opinion Poll of Canadian Views on Asia, an annual poll that examines Canadian attitudes toward Asia, found visible downward shifts in Canadians’ embrace of the Asia Pacific, as well as their sense of urgency to deepen relations with countries in the region. Significantly, fewer Canadians now see Canada as part of the Asia Pacific region – down 11 points from last year at 18%.

Canadians expressed cooler views towards most countries in Asia, especially China. Canadians with unfavorable or ‘cool’ feelings towards the People’s Republic of China exceeded those with favorable views by a factor of three. Nevertheless, China tops the list of Asian countries Canadians believe should receive greater emphasis in Canada’s foreign relations (54%). They also view China as the most important Asian country for Canada’s prosperity (45%).

Overall, Canadians are hesitant to engage more deeply with Asian countries on economic matters. Fewer Canadians are enthusiastic about Canada entering into free trade deals with Japan (60%, down 3% from 2012) or China (42%, down 6% from 2012). While 50% believe Canada would benefit from more Asian investment, support has fallen seven points from 12 months ago. A strong majority of respondents remain opposed to direct investment from Asian state-owned enterprises, particularly from China (76%), India (72%) and Japan (58%).

On energy relations with Asia, Canadians are increasingly divided on the best path forward. Most Canadians support building pipelines to export natural gas (54%) to ports on Canada’s west coast for export to Asia. However, fewer respondents now feel a sense of urgency to take advantage of Asian countries’ need for energy resources (53% in 2013 vs. 61% in 2012).

Canadians, however, appear more positive about building ties with Asia through cultural exchanges (70%), increasing student exchanges and university agreements (59%) or providing development assistance to Asian countries that demonstrate progress in fostering democratic norms (64%).

“The conflicted attitudes of Canadians make for a more difficult environment to deepen political and economic ties with Asia,” said Mr. Yuen Pau Woo. “There is a need for stronger leadership on Asia from government, business and civil society. This will only happen if ‘Asia strategies’ are a priority and if organizations invest in the skills, knowledge and experiences that are needed to be successful in Asia.”