Report: Canadian skepticism of Chinese tech investment strongest in B.C.

Despite a strong overall belief that Asian countries will drive the future of global technological advancements, Canadians - especially those in B.C. - appear to be highly skeptical of foreign investments coming from Asia in the domestic tech sector.

That is the finding of a new Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada poll released on June 12 titled “Canadian Views on High-Tech Investment from Asia,” which surveyed the opinions of 1,506 Canadian adults from Feb. 4 to 15 this year. 

The poll is among the first definitive surveys of Canadian attitudes towards tech companies from Asia since the arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. CFO Meng Wanzhou pushed the debate of whether Chinese firms should participate in the building of Canada’s 5G network into the spotlight.

The report shows that while more than half of Canadians surveyed dispute the benefits of having more high-tech investment from Asia, reactions from British Columbians are especially negative, with 62% believing the government is allowing too much tech investment from China. That number is equaled by Ontario’s figures but ahead of regions like the Prairies (60%) and Quebec (54%).

In addition, 59% of British Columbians in the report said the potential benefits of having more Asian investment in Canadian tech do not outweigh the risks. That figure is higher than the number reported in Ontario (51%), the Prairies (56%) and Quebec (48%).

“Although Canadian opinions show more convergences than divergences over Asian investment in Canada’s high-tech sector, some variances exist among the provinces/regions,” the report said. “… The strongest skepticism about benefits associated with inbound Asian high-tech investment comes from the Prairies and British Columbia.”

The ire of most Canadians surveyed regarding Asian tech investment in Canada revolves around Beijing. When the survey asked respondents to identify the probability of them opposing an investment project from three different countries, Chinese projects received the strongest opposition - with 64% rejecting support for such projects. The United States (around 32%) and Japan (around 28%) received much less opposition from Canadians.

Similarly, the sub-sector of telecommunications - where the 5G debate lies - is where Canadians are the most opposed in terms of foreign investment when it comes to specific industries. Respondents showed 51% opposition to such projects, compared to numbers around 37% for clean tech and animation.

Such numbers are no coincidence, officials said.

“The high profile of the Huawei case and the controversies it aroused around 5G and telecommunications security could have contributed to the sentiment,” the report said. “Among all factors, the source country exerts the strongest effect – Chinese investment is 36 percentage points more likely to be opposed than Japanese investment, and 32 percentage points more than U.S. investment.”

The West has debated the involvement of Chinese firms such as Huawei in the development of 5G networks in the last year, with some security officials expressing concern that Beijing can compel companies like Huawei to share information that may compromise the national security of counties like Canada, the United States and Australia.

Beijing officials, meanwhile, has repeatedly levied thinly veiled threats at Ottawa - after Meng arrest - to not block out Chinese participation in such networks on several occasions. Officials said the Chinese company invested $180 million in Canada last year and employs 1,100 workers here.

The full report can be read at asiapacific.ca.