According to a new Nanos Research poll, three-quarters of Canadians believe the Trudeau Liberals should ban Huawei Technologies from its 5G telecommunications networks. Hardened attitudes towards the Chinese state continued to mount after the US secured the release of two Canadian diplomats, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.
Chinese President Xi Jinping's government jailed the two Michaels in what its opponents in Ottawa call "hostage diplomacy." Their imprisonment is alleged retaliation for Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who reached a deferred prosecution deal with the US to earn her freedom last month. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hoped for common ground with China, but the Spavor and Kovrig detentions marked a turning point in relations.
Opposition to Huawei's presence in Canada's 5G soared to 76 percent of respondents from 53 percent in a similar 2019 poll. Other countries banned Huawei's 5G technology over fears the Chinese Communist Party could use it for espionage. Only 10 percent of respondents in 2021 said Huawei should supply gear for 5G in Canada, down from 22 percent in 2019.
Nearly seventy percent of Canadians reject deepening business ties with Beijing through free-trade deals, reported the Globe and Mail. Over two-thirds said Canada should delay negotiating a trade deal, up from 47 percent in 2019. Only 19 percent support proceeding with negotiations, down from 43 percent in 2019.
In line with the rising anti-China sentiment, the federal government ordered China Mobile to shut down its operations, citing national security concerns with the Chinese state-owned telecom in August. The Trudeau Liberals told it to wind up its subsidiary, China Mobile International Canada (CMI Canada) or divest itself of the business. The telecom giant challenged the order in court on September 7.
The federal government also unveiled revised guidelines concerning foreign takeovers and investments in critical sectors of the Canadian economy and funding of high-end research. The move came after the Canadian Security Intelligence Service voiced concerns about losing intellectual property and sensitive technology to China and other countries.
Pollster Nik Nanos said the country's shifting views on the rising Asiatic superpower mirror the changing opinions on China in other Western countries. "If the relationship between Canada and China was damaged in 2019 – now it's severely damaged," he said.
Last month, the US, Britain, and Australia struck a new defence pact, AUKUS, to counter China's growing influence in Asia. Eighty-seven percent of Canadians polled said they either support or somewhat support Canada joining the trio "to contain China's growing power." Only nine percent opposed or partially opposed the move.
Following the release of Kovrig and Spavor, the poll found Canadians became over three times more likely to call relations between Canada and China unfriendly. Forty-three percent of respondents opted for unfriendly and 12 percent for friendly, while another 42 percent picked neutral.
Nanos said the poll results reflect "an accumulation effect" of China's rising aggression. Examples include their quashing of democracy in Hong Kong and criminalized dissent in the former British colony, and its acts of genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. Their militarization of the South China sea and recent intimidation tactics against Taiwan also worsened Canadian perceptions of Beijing.
"When they think of China," said Nanos, "they see it as a problem." He called the country a "darling emerging superpower and a bit of an economic miracle" a decade ago. Now, the pollster said, "we've gone from that to almost a Cold War superpower flexing its muscles … and pushing other countries around."
In late September, Trudeau said his government would soon rule on whether to ban Huawei. In his comments following the recent federal election, the prime minister suggested Ottawa is likely to rely on Western suppliers for its next-generation wireless infrastructure, citing significant telecoms in Canada already opted not to buy equipment from China.
"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 don't involve them as a company," said Trudeau. "We will no doubt be making announcements in the coming weeks."