IN THIS EDITION: Canadian perceptions of the China-Canada relationship, shifting relations with COVID-19 and the ongoing fight for full canola access.

Canadian Perceptions of China-Canada relations

With current diplomatic tensions straining China-Canada relations and COVID-19 straining everything else, two highly relevant and interesting surveys came out to shed some light on the Canadian public and business community’s perceptions of Canada-China relations.

The first, an Angus Reid poll, found that at this moment:

• Only 14% of Canadians hold a favorable view of China, down from 29% in 2019;

• 76% of respondents said human rights and rule of law, rather than economic opportunity, should be the priority of the Canadian government in negotiating relations; and

• 85% of respondents stated that they did not think China was honest about COVID-19 and what happened in its own country.

The second survey, the China Canada Business Council’s China-Canada Business Impact Survey 2019/2020, highlights the views of Canadian companies engaged in business with China and Chinese companies engaging in business with Canada. Overall 79% of respondents said the current political situation, including China-Canada relations, the U.S.-China trade war, and economic developments in China, particularly COVID-19, had negatively impacted their business (43% major 36% minor) as compared to 20% in 2018/19. The key finding from the survey was the need for clear, concise national strategies on China-Canada relations to help guide Canadian companies as they engage in business with China.

Despite these impacts, 43% of respondents reported a positive outlook for future business with China. However, 84% of respondents reported negative impacts resulting from COVID-19 with 43% reporting minor negative impacts and 41% reporting major negative impacts. A total of 66% expected these impacts to end by September 30, 2020, and 14% expected these impacts to end with the close of 2020. As the survey was completed in March, the survey team did indicate they would expect increased pessimism in the results if the survey was completed now.

COVID-19 Relations

While the Canadian public appears to be generally pessimistic in how China handled COVID-19 in its country, the Canadian government has been more cautious in navigating diplomatic relations between the two countries. Recently, we saw this careful dance play out with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne refusing to mention Taiwan by name when thanking its government for donating 500,000 masks and then with Prime Minister Trudeau, the next day, thanking Taiwan directly.

In terms of COVID-19 response, the Prime Minister and the Canadian Ambassador to China, Dominic Barton, have become much more vocal on the need to investigate the handling of the crisis.

In remarks during a private session of the Canadian International Council, Ambassador Barton called for a “rigorous review” of the World Health Organization’s response to the pandemic once countries have moved through the current, critical phase. The ambassador also described China’s conduct around the world in response to the pandemic as damaging to its global soft power. For example, in a move of great potential significance for Canada, China has banned beef imports from four major Australian beef processors following Australian officials’ calls for an investigation into the origins of the virus.

Prime Minister Trudeau has also said that China and other countries have to answer questions related to their handling of the early stages of the virus and did support Ambassador Barton’s comments when asked about them.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has also made his views on China and COVID-19 known in comments to the Canadian American Business Council. The Premier called for the U.S. and Canada to permanently manufacture critical medical equipment in North America. Premier Kenney also said that there would be a “great reckoning” for China in terms of its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Chinese Consulate General in Calgary responded to the Premier’s comments with a statement on its website, accusing Mr. Kenney of attacking China to please President Trump.

Domestically, hate crimes against Asian communities are on the rise with the Vancouver Police department reporting 20 incidents so far this year, primarily as a result of backlash against COVID-19. The department reported 12 incidents for the entirety of 2019. BC Premier John Horgan has spoken out against the rise in crime as well as Minister of Citizens’ Services, Anne Kang.

Canola, agriculture and other business

Chinese-Canadian agricultural trade and business ventures show glimmers of hope despite COVID-19 and U.S.-China trade war pressures.

The Canola Council of Canada continues to work to resolve trade issues with China even as China continues to enforce the 1% dockage limit for canola, for an in-depth look at the dockage issue see this previous brief, and the ban on canola from Richardson and Viterra. The Council is working to ensure full market access for all Canadian canola from all companies in Canada through negotiations with Chinese and Canadian officials.  Even with the ban on certain companies, China was the top purchaser of Canadian canola in March 2020 and other grains look to be recovering from the rail strikes in late 2019 and blockades of early 2020.

Agriculture experts have expressed optimism for the Canadian agricultural sector overall, including trade with China, even with the current geopolitical and trade climate.

In this regard, Canada West Foundation colleagues Sharon Sun and Carlo Dade are finishing a major research project on new approaches for Canada to engage China on agricultural trade issues. Stay tuned.

Shandong, a Chinese-based gold company with 47% owned by the Chinese government, has purchased TMAC Resources Inc. for $230 million CAN. The acquisition will be one of the first to fall under new federal rules for foreign acquisition requiring the company to prove that the action is a benefit to all Canadians.

Richard Fadden, former head of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), has said that the federal government should be cautious with Chinese takeovers of strategic mine reserves as such moves may pose a threat to national security.  In addition to the TMAC acquisition, China also holds shares in key Canadian zinc and copper mines. Mr. Fadden sees Chinese purchasing of strategic minerals around the world as a part of broader strategies, such as the Belt and Road initiative to increase development and trade between China and other countries, and that Canada must also consider the broader implications of these strategies when reviewing strategic mineral acquisitions.

Primary Peptides Inc., a Canadian biotech company, and Simcere Pharmaceutical Group, a Chinese-based pharmaceutical company, have announced an agreement to develop and commercialize a product for stroke treatment. Simcere will hold the rights for China, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan while Primary Peptides will hold all other international rights.

Other diplomatic issues

While most focus on Canadian detainees in China has been on Michael Spavor and Micahel Kovrig, a Chinese-born couple, who became Canadian citizens in 2007, were sentenced to prison following arrest in China in 2017. Peter Wang was sentenced to three years and Ruqin Zhao was sentenced to two years. The couple previously worked in military-linked research in China and defected without proper permissions, making this one of China’s first disclosed defection cases. The case has caused other Chinese-born researchers and defectors to fear arrest upon return to China.

Amnesty International and the Canadian Coalition on Human Rights in China have released a report titled “Harassment and Intimidation of Individuals in Canada working on China-related Human Rights Concerns.” The report documents incidents where Canadian activists have experienced harassment and intimidation allegedly at the suggestion or backing of the Chinese government. The report also contains recommendations for the Canadian government, including the establishment of a front-line contact for individuals and groups facing harassment and intimidation efforts.

Everything else

• President Donald Trump is refusing to speak to President Xi and has again threatened to cut ties with China. The U.S. government insists the Phase One agreement is not in peril.

• Conservative Party Leadership candidate Erin O’Toole makes his views on the Canada-China relationship known. Mr. O’Toole sees Canada’s approach to the China-Canada relationship as conditional; a relationship in which Canada does China’s bidding in turn for favour from Chinese officials.

• The Washington Post has picked up on the partisan tensions in Canada surrounding China-Canada relations.

• Chinese embassies have circulated COVID-19 care packages to Chinese students remaining on Canadian campuses. Health Canada and Canadian doctors are issuing warnings about the herbal supplement contained in the packages.

• The Calgary Zoo has announced they are returning two giant pandas to China due to supply chain issues with importing fresh bamboo from China. The pandas were originally due to return in 2023.

• Anastasia Lin, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Pary, has come forward with stories of harassment by United Front. United Front is a branch of the Chinese Communist Party which works to increase Chinese soft power overseas, primarily through the Chinese diaspora and the business community.

• Canada joined with Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and the U.S. to submit a letter to the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, calling for Taiwan to be granted observer status at the World Health Assembly meeting held on Monday. Taiwan ultimately delayed its observer status request and the vote so the assembly could focus its limited meeting time on the global pandemic.

– Stephany Laverty, policy analyst

The China Brief is a compilation of stories and links related to China and its relationship with Canada’s West. The opinions expressed in the links are those of the articles’ authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of the Canada West Foundation and our affiliates.