Canadians See China as the Biggest Threat: Survey

November 16, 2020 Updated: November 16, 2020

A recent survey shows that most Canadians now consider China, instead of Russia, to be the biggest threat to Canada.

The survey (pdf) is a part of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) project which aimed to understand Canadians’ views of their country’s position in the post-COVID world, and how they see other countries as allies and adversaries.

The findings revealed the most significant number of negative views Canadians have toward China ever recorded by the MLI. A total of 73 percent of Canadians see China negatively, while only 7 percent have an at least moderately positive view.

By contrast, Russia is also viewed negatively by 72 percent of Canadians, while it is seen in a positive light by 7 percent of the interviewees.

China topped the list among the four countries which Canadians considered to be a “serious threat to Canada,” followed by Russia, Iran, and the United States.

“China has replaced Russia as our principal rival,” said Shuvaloy Majumdar, a MLI Munk senior fellow, in an explanation (pdf) of the meanings of the polling.

“This study confirms yet again how out of sync the Government of Canada is with public opinion on China’s emerging threat to Canadian sovereignty and national security,” said Charles Burton, a senior fellow at MLI. “As a consequence, the credibility of Canada’s claim of principled commitment to the international rules-based order rings hollowed and hollowed as the years go by.”

The MLI said Canadian views of China have continued to worsen in the past years. According to another survey by Angus Reid Institute, 14 percent of Canadians saw China positively in spring 2020, which dropped a further 7 percent in this latest MLI report.

Canadians who dislike China fall into two camps—those who dislike great powers and those who see China as an opponent of the West.

“Canadians are suspicious of great powers in the world, including our American allies,” said Balkan Devlen, a Senior Fellow at MLI. “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.”

Canadians also demonstrate strong opinions toward the country’s influence in international relations.

While only half (53 percent) of interviewees believe Canada to be at least moderately influential in the world, the large cohort of Canadians (72 percent) found it important for the country to be influential.

“Despite promises that ‘Canada is back,’ Canadians largely believe that this is not the case; that our place in the world remains underleveraged,” said Devlen. “While Canadians understand Canada’s position as a middle power country, they largely believe that Ottawa must do more to improve our stature and standing on the global stage.”

The opinions from 1,023 Canadians national-wide were collected between Sept. 28 and Sept. 30, 2020. The national sample has a 3.1 percent margin of error. The poll was done with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.