Canadian attitudes towards China have undergone a dramatic shift – from ambivalence to distrust – since the two countries became locked in a diplomatic dispute in late 2018. This paper argues that these hardened sentiments are unlikely to dissipate and Canada–China relations seem to have entered a new, warier phase.

Key points:

  • Public opinion surveys in Canada indicate that attitudes towards China have hardened dramatically since the two countries became locked in a diplomatic dispute in late 2018. Whereas public views of China had long been ambivalent, they are now strongly negative.
  • Hardened Canadian attitudes are likely to persist, even if the current dispute ends. The two countries appear to have entered a new, warier phase in their relationship. A return to the status quo ante in bilateral relations is unlikely.
  • China’s detention of two Canadian citizens and its trade actions against Canada have startled the country. So has the Trump administration’s mercurial treatment of Canada and other US allies. These developments have highlighted risks that Canada faces in a world of intensified geopolitical rivalry, where Canada may be subject to direct forms of great-power coercion.
  • Although managing the current dispute with China is important, Canadian leaders understand that maintaining productive relations with the US and reliable access to its market is a vital national interest. Canada is not ‘neutral’ in the growing rivalry between the US and China. It will align with the US, but it will also seek to prevent tensions with China from escalating. 
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