Canada's relationship with the economic powerhouses of Asia is poised to dominate Stephen Harper's fall agenda as he pushes for deeper trade links while weighing the risks of growing Chinese investment at home.
A new survey by Nanos Research shows Canadians believe the benefits of expanding trade with China outweigh any risks. Yet a significant minority – one in three – view economic relations with China as a threat to job creation and favour a cautious approach.
"It sounds very Canadian, doesn't it? We want to be opportunistic but cautious," pollster Nik Nanos said.
The poll underscores the fine line the Prime Minister must walk as he continues his pro-Asia trade agenda this weekend in Russia at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders meeting. Reducing Canada's dependence on the U.S. economy through deeper trade with Asia is a clear goal.
But a study to be released on Thursday by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada urges Ottawa to pursue more than just economic links if it wants to get a leg up on Australia and many other nations aggressively pursuing pro-Asia policies.
Deeper links in security, culture and education would all contribute to Canada's economic goals, the report says, adding that expanded study of Asian languages in Canadian schools should also be a priority.
Don Campbell, a former deputy minister of foreign affairs who co-wrote the report, said Canadians do not seem to grasp the scope of change in Asia and what it means for the domestic economy.
"There is a significant lack of awareness in Canada of the importance of Asia in terms of its rise, its economic might in the world and the implications this has for Canada," he said in an interview from Vladivostok, Russia, where the APEC summit is already under way.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and Trade Minister Ed Fast are at the summit, but Mr. Campbell said Canadian ministers need to travel more throughout Asia, and more diplomatic staff should be added to show governments that Canada is serious about expanding its Asian links.
Mr. Campbell's report calls for Canada to secure an invitation to the East Asian Summit, an emerging body focused on peace and security that includes Australia and the United States.
Mr. Campbell has seen Canada's interest in Asia rise and fall over the years, resulting in trade levels that have fallen behind those of nations with a more consistent approach.
"We're calling for a sustained, long-term, coherent approach in the same way that Australia has done over the last 15 or 20 years," he said.
The Prime Minister will have an opportunity to shed further light on his plans on Thursday in Vancouver, when he speaks at a conference called Canada-Asia Dialogue hosted by the news agency Bloomberg. Andrew MacDougall, the Prime Minister's spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday that meetings of the 21-member APEC are particularly valuable for the one-on-one conversations between leaders and between ministers that take place.
Nanos surveyed 1,000 Canadians online June 11 and 12 on Asia-Pacific issues for the latest issue of Policy Options magazine.
The poll was done before the July announcement that China's state-owned China National Offshore Oil Company Ltd. plans a $15.1-billion (U.S.) purchase of Canadian oil and gas firm Nexen Inc.
Ottawa must approve the deal, and it has prompted heated debate about where Canada should draw the line when it comes to takeovers by firms that are fully owned by undemocratic states.
"I think any government has to recognize the opportunity that China represents in terms of the future of the economy," Mr. Nanos said. "At the same they have to balance the interests of the country in order to ensure that that is as mutual a beneficial relationship as possible."