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With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set to launch his first official visit to China, a new poll says the number of Canadians who support the idea of a free-trade agreement with this country’s second-largest trading partner is growing.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set to launch his first official visit to China, a new poll says the number of Canadians who support the idea of a free-trade agreement with this country's second-largest trading partner is growing.

However, the poll also found fewer Canadians believe the human-rights situation in China is improving, and more than half would be willing to forgo economic opportunities in Asian countries with human-rights concerns.

The poll was commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada and conducted by EKOS Research Associates. It surveyed 3,526 Canadians during a three-week period in June and July and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 per cent.

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The poll found 46 per cent of Canadians would support a free-trade agreement with China, up from 36 per cent in the foundation's 2014 report. Forty-six per cent would oppose such a deal, down from 50 per cent two years ago.

Related: What Trudeau wants and risks with visit to China

A poll conducted for The Globe and Mail by Nanos Research earlier this year found 41 per cent of Canadians would support or somewhat support a free-trade agreement with China.

The poll found 47 per cent of Canadians would oppose or somewhat oppose such a deal.

Sources have told The Globe there will be "no movement" toward a free-trade agreement with China during the Prime Minister's trip.

Federal officials have said the Canadian public is skeptical about China's willingness to embrace the rule of law, as well as its transparency in business dealings.

The poll for The Globe found 76 per cent of Canadians had a negative or somewhat negative impression of the Chinese government.

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Seventy-six per cent of those polled for the Asia Pacific Foundation said Ottawa should raise human-rights issues with Asian countries. Thirty-five per cent said the human-rights situation in China is improving, down four points from 2014.

Fifty-one per cent said they would be willing to miss out on commercial opportunities, at least to some degree, in Asian countries with human-rights concerns.

And 62 per cent said there was too much Chinese investment in Canadian real estate. In B.C., where a 15-per-cent tax on foreign buyers took effect earlier this month, 72 per cent said there was too much real-estate investment from China.

However, Eva Busza, vice-president of research and programs at the foundation, said in some respects Canadians appear to be developing a more positive view of Asia.

She said the poll found 48 per cent of Canadians believe Asia should be this country's foreign-policy priority, up from 37 per cent in 2014. Forty-nine per cent viewed China's growth as an opportunity, up from 41 per cent.

And 50 per cent said they could probably be persuaded to support a closer economic relationship with China if more information was made available, while 20 per cent said they were already supportive.

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"I think this poll suggests the Canadian public is taking a more nuanced approach to Asia," she said in an interview.

The Asia Pacific Foundation has been commissioning such polls for 12 years, though the 2015 poll had a different focus and smaller sample size. Ms. Busza said the 2014 poll made for a better comparison to the 2016 poll.

Yves Tiberghien, director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said he was intrigued by the number of people who believed Asia should be the priority when it comes to foreign policy.

"Incrementally, Asia is going to be more and more important," he said in an interview. "… I think they got that right."

Prof. Tiberghien, in addition to his work at UBC, is a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation and said he was consulted during the drafting of the survey questions.

With a report from Daniel Leblanc

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