Cana­di­ans’ sus­pi­cion about China is deep­en­ing

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - MARIO CANSECO

In Oc­to­ber 2012, a sur­vey I con­ducted asked Cana­di­ans about the pro­posed takeover of Calgary-based oil and gas com­pany Nexen Inc. by China’s sta­te­owned CNOOC Ltd. At that time, a ma­jor­ity of Cana­di­ans (58 per cent) be­lieved the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should block the trans­ac­tion – a pro­por­tion that rose to 63 per cent in Al­berta.

Sup­port­ers of all three main fed­eral par­ties voiced reser­va­tions about the deal. In Bri­tish Columbia, op­po­si­tion to CNOOC’s takeover of Nexen out­ranked sup­port by a stun­ning 10-to-one mar­gin (69 per cent to seven per cent).

Across the coun­try, 78 per cent of re­spon­dents agreed with the idea that for­eign gov­ern­ments should not be able to con­trol re­sources on Canadian soil.

Their anx­i­ety did not mat­ter much, as two months later, in De­cem­ber 2012, the Con­ser­va­tive fed­eral gov­ern­ment ap­proved the takeover.

John Manley, pres­i­dent of what was then known as the Canadian Coun­cil of Chief Ex­ec­u­tives (now the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Canada), stated that Ot­tawa’s de­ci­sion would “safe­guard the na­tional in­ter­est while en­sur­ing that Cana­di­ans con­tinue to reap the ben­e­fits of a wel­com­ing ap­proach to for­eign in­vest­ment.”

Since then, CNOOC’s ac­tiv­i­ties in Canada can be re­garded as dis­ap­point­ing.

The com­pany is re­spon­si­ble for one of the largest bi­tu­men spills in Al­berta’s his­tory and walked away from a liq­ue­fied nat­u­ral gas devel­op­ment in Bri­tish Columbia val­ued at $20 bil­lion. A se­vere bi­tu­men spill and an aban­doned project are not ex­actly “ben­e­fits to reap,” as Manley en­vis­aged in 2012.

Seven years later, Cana­di­ans are be­ing asked once again to look at China as a pos­si­ble con­trib­u­tor. Now the is­sue is tech­nol­ogy, as Canada be­gins to plan the devel­op­ment of the 5G (or “fifth gen­er­a­tion”) mo­bile net­works, to pro­vide Cana­di­ans with larger data ca­pac­ity and faster con­nec­tions.

In Fe­bru­ary, Re­search Co. mea­sured the early re­ac­tion from Cana­di­ans to the ar­rest of Huawei Tech­nolo­gies Co. Ltd. chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer Meng Wanzhou in Van­cou­ver fol­low­ing an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest from the United States.

Pub­lic opin­ion was favourable to the ac­tions of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, trou­bled by Huawei’s po­ten­tial in­volve­ment in 5G and skep­ti­cal about es­tab­lish­ing closer ties with China.

A lot has hap­pened since Fe­bru­ary, in­clud­ing China’s con­tin­ued con­fine­ment of two Cana­di­ans – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spa­vor – on es­pi­onage al­le­ga­tions, China ban­ning im­ports of Canadian canola, pork and beef, a bar­rage of dis­parag­ing state­ments from China’s For­eign Min­istry and, most re­cently, an in­ter­view with Meng’s fa­ther, Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei, pub­lished in the Globe and Mail.

At times, Ren’s in­ter­view reads like an­other press brief­ing from his coun­try’s For­eign Min­istry, crit­i­ciz­ing Canada’s fed­eral gov­ern­ment for not be­ing “smarter” in re­ject­ing an ex­tra­di­tion re­quest from

the United States. But he also comes across as a savvy in­vestor, ar­gu­ing that Canada has “very bright peo­ple, (but not) enough peo­ple.”

Ear­lier this month, Re­search Co. asked again about Huawei and China. In the lat­est coun­try­wide sur­vey, 72 per cent of Cana­di­ans agree with the way Canadian au­thor­i­ties have acted in the Meng case. This rep­re­sents a nine-point in­crease since Fe­bru­ary.

Lib­eral Party of Canada vot­ers from 2015 are de­cid­edly happy with Ot­tawa’s per­for­mance on this file (86 per cent), but ma­jori­ties of those who voted for the New Demo­cratic Party (72 per cent) and the Con­ser­va­tive Party of Canada (59 per cent) are also laud­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s course of ac­tion.

Per­haps more strik­ing is that only 17 per cent of Cana­di­ans think Canada should al­low Huawei to par­tic­i­pate in the devel­op­ment of Canada’s 5G mo­bile net­works.

Op­po­si­tion to the idea now stands at 68 per cent, up 11 points since Fe­bru­ary.

Sim­ply put, there is no de­mo­graphic in the coun­try that cur­rently en­dorses Huawei be­com­ing a part­ner on 5G.

In Bri­tish Columbia, aver­sion to Huawei’s con­tri­bu­tion reaches a stag­ger­ing 81 per cent, by far the high­est across all re­gions.

In ad­di­tion, two-thirds of Cana­di­ans (67 per cent) say Canada should not work to es­tab­lish closer ties with China. Skep­ti­cism is high­est among men (75 per cent), Cana­di­ans aged 55 and over (85 per cent) and res­i­dents of Man­i­toba and Saskatchew­an (73 per cent).

Al­most seven years ago, Cana­di­ans ex­pressed sus­pi­cion about invit­ing the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to Canada’s nat­u­ral re­source sec­tor.

The Nexen takeover did not go as orig­i­nally an­tic­i­pated.

Now, in a world where con­cerns over pri­vacy and data col­lec­tion are at a peak, per­cep­tions of fur­ther Chi­nese in­volve­ment on Canadian soil have ev­i­dently soured.

In 2012, 58 per cent of Cana­di­ans said “No, thanks” to Nexen’s takeover.

In 2019, 68 per cent are say­ing “No, thanks” to Huawei as a 5G devel­oper.

We will have to wait and see if the cur­rent fed­eral gov­ern­ment be­haves dif­fer­ently than its pre­de­ces­sor when it comes to China.

Mario Canseco is pres­i­dent of Re­search Co. Re­sults are based on an on­line study con­ducted from July 6 to July 9, 2019, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been sta­tis­ti­cally weighted ac­cord­ing to Canadian cen­sus fig­ures for age, gen­der and re­gion in Canada. The mar­gin of er­ror – which mea­sures sam­ple vari­abil­ity – is plus or mi­nus 3.1 per­cent­age points, 19 times out of 20.

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