How Canadians view Asian investment

Canadians are cautiously optimistic about the benefits of direct foreign investment from Asia, according to a national poll conducted on behalf of the Asia Pacific Foundation (APF) Canada.

A majority expressed positive views of investment from Japan (78 per cent), South Korea (67 per cent) and India (59 per cent), which is comparable to the 77 per cent of Canadians expressing favourable views on investment from the United States – Canada’s largest source of foreign direct investment.

“Canadians are particularly fond of Japan,” said APF Canada president and CEO Stewart Beck.

“We view Japan as friendly and on the cutting edge of technological innovation. And we’re happy when Japanese companies decide to set up shop in our country.”

Only when it comes to China, opinions are mixed. While two-fifths responded favourably to Chinese investment, nearly half expressed opposition. Some of the characteristics that often accompany Chinese foreign investment – and that the Canadian public remains wary of – are the involvement of state-owned enterprises and the focus on the resource sector.

Canadians worry about “loss of control over resources” with investment from global powers, with 48 per cent relating this concern in connection with Chinese investment and 42 per cent with U.S. investment. “Despite the fact that the U.S. is our close ally and our largest trading partner, many Canadians think American companies are going to give us a raw deal when it comes to resources,” said Nathan Allen, manager of surveys at APF Canada. “They are reacting the same way to Chinese investment. Canadians worry they will be taken advantage of by the world’s two largest economies.”

Yet Canadians overestimate the extent of Chinese investment – the survey shows they believe that 25 per cent of all foreign direct investment in Canada comes from China when it is actually closer to three per cent. APF Canada attributes this misperception in part to the considerable increase in Chinese investment, which grew between 2003 and 2013 from $0.2-billion to $20.4-billion.

Other survey findings suggest that attitudes toward particular countries may colour Canadians’ views of the investment originating there. While many recognize that foreign companies operating in Canada have to abide by domestic laws and practices, they still associate investments from China with “environmental damage” and “poor labour standards.”

Since significant Chinese investments are relatively recent developments, these investors have not yet established track records that could be used to counter Canadians’ skeptical attitudes.

“Barring significant socio-political change in China, Canadians are only likely to warm to Chinese investment if they see Chinese companies making a positive contribution to Canada,” according to AFP Canada. “In this regard, early Chinese investors in Canada have a special role and responsibility to facilitate this evolution by contributing to a positive legacy.”

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