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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 21, 2020.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Canadians see China as a bigger threat than Russia today, according to a new survey.

Recent polling conducted for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute found 79 per cent of respondents believe China constitutes a serious or moderate threat to Canada. Sixty-eight per cent of those surveyed said Russia is a serious or moderate threat.

Conversely, 22 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they consider China a “small threat” or “no threat at all," while 33 per cent of Canadians responded the same about Russia.

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Shuvaloy Majumdar, a foreign-policy specialist at the Ottawa-based think tank, said the survey has captured a shift in Canadian attitudes.

“China has replaced Russia as our principal rival," he said.

Russia, once Canada’s Cold war adversary, has been ruled by Vladimir Putin for two decades and Russian officials are still the target of Canadian sanctions for Moscow’s seizure and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

Neither China nor Chinese officials, however, are the target of any Canadian sanctions despite calls for such measures after Beijing incarcerated hundreds of thousands of Muslim Uyghurs in detention camps and quashed civil liberties in Hong Kong.

The online poll of 1,023 Canadians was commissioned in partnership with Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation and was conducted by the firm One Persuades between Sept. 28 and 30. It’s considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey found Canadians are divided about whether this country is influential in world affairs, with 48 per cent of respondents saying they view Canada as “moderately influential” and 5 per cent saying it’s “very influential.” Conversely, 39 per cent said they feel Canada is not very influential and 7 per cent said they consider it “not at all influential.”

A strong majority, however, would like to see Canada exert more influence. Seventy-two per cent said they believe it’s important, or moderately important, for Canada to be influential on the world stage. Twenty-eight per cent disagreed, saying they consider it “not very important” or “not important at all” for Canada to have sway.

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Like other recent polling, the survey found quite negative views of the United States, one of Canada’s oldest allies. Sixty-three per cent of respondents said they have a moderately negative, or very negative, view of the United States. Seventeen per cent said they were neutral and 20 per cent registered very positive or moderately positive views of the U.S.

In a statement, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute said this is not surprising after four years of the “America First” policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, who forced a renegotiation of the North American free-trade agreement on better terms for the United States and has slapped tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel using national security as a justification.

“This appears to be largely driven by public perceptions toward the Trump administration’s narrowly defined national interest agenda, and it remains to be seen whether the incoming Biden presidency will fundamentally change that,” the think tank said.

The survey also found a large degree of ambivalence toward countries that are not high-profile international partners but still look to Canada as an ally, including Ukraine, Israel, India, Taiwan and Latvia.

For instance, it found 24 per cent of Canadians register “very positive” or “moderately positive” views of Israel, and 35 per cent say they have “moderately negative” or “very negative” views of Israel. But the biggest number is reserved for the ambivalent: 43 per cent of respondents say they are “neutral” on Israel.

Similarly, for Ukraine, 17 per cent of Canadians say they have “very positive” or “moderately positive” views of Ukraine, and 25 per cent register “moderately negative” or “very negative” views of Ukraine. Fifty-eight per cent of respondents however describe themselves as “neutral” on Ukraine.

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Balkan Devlen, an adjunct research professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa and a senior fellow at the institute, said these democracies are all important for Canada’s strategic interests but need to do a better job at improving their visibility among Canadians.

The poll found Canadians have positive views of middle-sized powers such as Australia, Germany, Japan and Britain. For instance, 75 per cent of respondents reported a “very positive” or “moderately positive” view of Australia and 60 per cent said they had “very positive” or “moderately positive" views of Britain.

“Canadians are suspicious of great powers in the world, including our American allies,” Prof. Devlen said. “We believe we can engage in foreign affairs without subordinating our interests to great powers and should explore opportunities for strategic engagement with other democratic states around the world."

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