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International Business Canadians oppose and overestimate Chinese investment, poll shows

Mining operations continue at Syncrude Canada Ltd.'s oil sands North Mine in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, on Tuesday, June 29, 2010. The project is a joint venture including investment from China.

Jimmy Jeong/Bloomberg

Canadians continue to oppose foreign direct investment from China while welcoming inflows from other Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and India, according to the latest version of an annual survey from the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

The survey found respondents generally associated investment from China with a "loss of control over our resources," and this was particularly the case in Alberta, where recent years have seen investments in the oil patch. Others associated Chinese investment with "poor labour standards" and "environmental damage," which the authors suggest may have more to do with the operations of Chinese companies in China, rather than in Canada.

Stewart Beck, the Asia Pacific Foundation's chief executive officer, said he was surprised by how positive respondents were to Japanese investment in Canada – a relationship that changed over the decades from one where Japan simply exported to Canada to one where Japanese auto firms did manufacturing here.

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"Canadians react positively to investors that come and contribute positively to the economy," Mr. Beck said. "That's a message that could be a positive message for the Chinese investors."

The survey showed many vastly overestimated the extent of Chinese foreign direct investment in Canada, suggesting it accounted for 25 per cent of inflows when the real figure is closer to 3 per cent (a figure that excludes investor immigrants and investment that came through third-party countries).

Still, of those polled, 49 per cent said they opposed investment from China, with just 42 per cent saying they would welcome Chinese inflows. The numbers were much more favourable for other East Asian countries: About 78 per cent of those polled said they would welcome investment from Japan, with only 13 per cent saying they would oppose Japanese inflows – figures that were roughly in line with views of U.S. investment. When it came to South Korea, 67 per cent favoured investment while 22 per cent said the would oppose it. Nearly 60 per cent of respondents said they would welcome investment from India, while 30 per cent said they would oppose it.

The Asia Pacific Foundation, which was established by an act of Parliament in 1984 to research and promote Canadian trade with Asia, said attitudes toward Asian investment were more positive this year, but noted that it had adjusted the survey from past years. It previously asked specifically about investment from Asian state-owned enterprises, or SOEs, which tended to generate more negative responses – for example, just 14 per cent of people supported investment from Chinese SOEs in 2014.

Although only 30 per cent of those polled had supported Japanese SOEs in the previous survey, Japan enjoyed a friendly reception from Canadians in the current poll. People tended to associate Japanese investments with "new technologies," "increased trade," "economic growth" and "job creation." Roughly 40 per cent of respondents suggested the level of Japanese investment in Canada was about right, with 20 per cent saying there was "too little" investment. On the other hand, with China, 56 per cent of respondents said there was "too much" investment, while only 6 per cent said there was "too little." Many also viewed U.S. investment as leading to a "loss of control over our resources."

"Canadians' perceptions of investment from the United States are not as overwhelmingly positive as those held about Japanese investment," the authors write.

And although respondents also overestimated the amount of investment flowing in from Japan and South Korea, the estimates were within 10 per cent of the actual figure, and not as overblown as the fear-inflated figure related to China.

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The poll was conducted with 1,548 respondents by EKOS Research Associates, and has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

The authors note that many North Americans previously viewed a fast-growing Japan as an economic competitor, and that views softened over time as the country came to be seen more as a trading partner – something they suggest might eventually happen with China. "Chinese companies have only recently begun investing heavily in Canada, and it is likely Canada's views on Chinese investment will evolve," the authors write.

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