Poll shows hardening position on China among Canadians

SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER

More than 75 per cent of Canadians think the federal government should ban Huawei Technologies from this country’s 5G telecommunications networks in a new Nanos Research poll that finds hardening attitudes toward the Chinese state and business relations with Beijing.

The survey by Nanos for The Globe and Mail was conducted the week after the United States secured the release of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who had been jailed for years by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s government in what Ottawa criticized as “hostage diplomacy.”

Their incarceration followed Canada’s arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who last month reached a deferred prosecution deal with the U.S. to earn her freedom.

Trudeau initially hoped for common ground with China. But the Michael Spavor and Kovrig detentions marked a turning point in relations

The Decibel: The two Michaels: Where do Canada-China relations go from here?

Opposition to Huawei’s presence in 5G has increased to 76 per cent of respondents from 53 per cent in a 2019 poll. Huawei’s 5G technology has been banned in other countries over fears that the Chinese Communist Party could use it for spying purposes. In the latest results, only 10 per cent of respondents say Huawei should be allowed to supply gear for 5G, down from 22 per cent in the 2019 poll.

Nearly seven out of 10 Canadians oppose deepening business ties by negotiating a free-trade deal with the Chinese government. Sixty-nine per cent say Canada should delay negotiating a trade deal, up from 47 per cent in a 2019 survey. Only 19 per cent support proceeding with negotiations, down from 43 per cent in 2019.

Eighty-seven per cent of Canadians support, or somewhat support Canada joining with the United States, Britain and Australia “to contain China’s growing power.” Nine per cent oppose or somewhat oppose this. Last month, the U.S., Britain and Australia struck a new defence pact, AUKUS, to counter China’s growing influence in the Asia-Pacific region.

The survey found that after the release of Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor, Canadians were more than three times more likely to say that relations between the Canadian government and the Chinese government should be unfriendly rather than friendly. Forty-three per cent of respondents opted for unfriendly and 12 per cent for friendly. Another 42 per cent picked neutral.

Pollster Nik Nanos said Canada’s shift in views mirrors changing opinions on China in other Western countries.

“If the relationship between Canada and China was damaged in 2019 – now it’s severely damaged,” Mr. Nanos said.

Opinion: Will we be firmer with China, now that the two Michaels are free? Don’t bet on it

He said the poll results reflect “an accumulation effect” in the wake of years of aggressive conduct by China. In recent years, the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party has quashed democracy in Hong Kong and criminalized dissent in the former British colony. It has been accused of crimes against humanity in the internment of a great many Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims in recent years. It has militarized the South China sea and stepped up intimating military sorties against Taiwan.

“When they think of China,” he said, “they see it as a problem.”

Ten years ago, China was a “darling emerging superpower and a bit of an economic miracle and we’ve gone from that to almost a Cold War superpower flexing its muscles … and pushing other countries around.”

In late September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal cabinet will soon rule on whether to ban Huawei and strongly suggested in comments to reporters that Ottawa is likely to unplug the Chinese tech company from Canada’s next-generation wireless infrastructure, noting that this country’s major telecoms have already opted to buy equipment from Western suppliers.

“We have actually seen that many Canadian telecommunications companies, if not all of them, have started to remove Huawei from their networks and are moving forward in ways that doesn’t involve them as a company,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We will no doubt be making announcements in the coming weeks.”

Opinion: The two Michaels were just new characters in a Sino-Canadian drama whose decades-long plot is as twisted as ever

The survey of more than 1,000 people in Canada was conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. It’s considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

In a sign that Ottawa is taking a tougher approach to China, the federal government ordered a Chinese state-owned telecom in August to cease operating in Canada over national-security concerns. China Mobile was told to either wind up its subsidiary, China Mobile International Canada (CMI Canada), or divest itself of the business. The order came to light after the telecom challenged it in court on Sept. 7.

In July, the government unveiled revised guidelines laying out new areas of concern for Ottawa as it scrutinizes foreign takeovers and investments in key sectors of the economy, as well as funding of high-end research. The move was in response to concerns raised by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service about the loss of intellectual property and sensitive technology to foreign countries such as China.

Know what is happening in the halls of power with the day’s top political headlines and commentary as selected by Globe editors (subscribers only). Sign up today.