Negative views of China harden in Canada on arbitrary detentions, treatment of Uighur Muslims

More than three-quarters of Canadians said they believe the Chinese government's actions against Uighur Muslims constitute genocide. PHOTO: REUTERS

OTTAWA (BLOOMBERG) - Public opinion of China is becoming entrenched at a record low in Canada, with Beijing's use of arbitrary detention and treatment of its minority Muslim population resonating strongly in a new poll.

More than three-quarters of respondents in an Angus Reid Institute survey released on Tuesday (March 16) said relations can't improve while China holds two Canadians on national security charges.

It locked the pair up within days of the 2018 arrest of a top Huawei Technologies executive in Vancouver on a US extradition request.

A similar proportion of Canadians said they believe the Chinese government's actions against Uighur Muslims constitute genocide.

Lawmakers in the House of Commons unanimously backed a non-binding motion on the issue last month, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government to take a harder line with its second-largest trading partner on human rights.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is back in a British Columbia court this week contesting her extradition. She is living under house arrest in one of her mansions, able to shop and dine in the Pacific coast city while accompanied by a security detail and wearing a tracking device on her ankle.

Former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor, meanwhile, have been held behind bars in harsh conditions for more than two years.

"For the vast majority of Canadians, there are many issues complicating the China-Canada relationship: human rights and rule of law, concerns over Chinese investment in sensitive industries such as telecommunications, trade tariffs," Ms Shachi Kurl, president of Vancouver-based Angus Reid, said by e-mail.

"In their minds, not one of these issues can be untangled, addressed or improved until Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig are released by Beijing and returned home."

The poll found that only 11 per cent of respondents would support fostering closer trade ties with China, and just 14 per cent held a favourable view of the Asian nation. The latter result matches a record low set in a similar survey last year.

By comparison, Pew Research Centre polling 15 years ago found that nearly three-fifths of Canadians held a positive view of Beijing.

Kovrig and Spavor, whom Beijing accuses of spying, could soon be sent to trial, according to a Chinese tabloid newspaper editor close to the ruling Communist Party. Mr Trudeau's government said last week it hasn't yet been formally notified that their cases will proceed to court.

Canada rallied 57 other mainly Western nations to sign a declaration against the use of arbitrary detentions for geopolitical leverage last month. The Chinese government scorned the move as "megaphone diplomacy".

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