How ordinary Canadians view China and Meng's case

January 31, 2019 18:47
An Autumn scene in Vancouver. Many Canadians are no longer as friendly to new immigrants as they used to be. Photo: Xinhua

Sabrina Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of the mainland telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., was arrested by Canadian authorities on Dec. 1 at the request of the United States. 

Meng’s apprehension immediately sparked a diplomatic tiff between Canada and China. Two Canadian civilians were arrested in China on national security grounds. Then a Chinese court retried a drug smuggling case against a Canadian man and sentenced him to death.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked John McCallum, the country's ambassador to China, to resign after he made personal comments on Meng’s case.

On Monday the US Department of Justice announced criminal charges against Huawei and is seeking Meng’s extradition to the United States.

Recently I have spoken with some of my Canadian friends to seek their take on the Huawei incident. Their views are a far cry from the opinions expressed in Chinese media.

Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail reported that Nanos Research, a prestigious market and public opinion research organization in the country, carried out a public opinion survey on the Huawei saga between Dec. 30, 2018 and Jan. 5, 2019.

The poll found that 56 percent of the Canadian respondents believed that Canada acted properly in detaining Meng and that her arrest the arrest was “primarily a justice issue”, whereas only 29 percent viewed her case as politically and economically motivated.

Meanwhile, 83 percent said they had negative or somewhat negative view of China’s one-party government, and 53 percent even considered Beijing as a threat to Canada's national security.

In comparison, less than 10 percent said they had positive or somewhat positive view of the Chinese government.

A spokesperson for Nanos Research said the poll findings suggest that the Canadian government and politicians should be “extremely careful” in dealing with China from a political perspective, and that being either unfriendly or too friendly to China carried a "political risk".

The sacking of McCallum for his remarks about Meng's case is probably an immediate proof of it.

What the Nanos Research poll has provided are just figures and abstract conclusions. But how do ordinary Canadians really perceive Meng and Huawei?

One might still remember that back in the 1980s and 1990s, a large number of Hong Kong families emigrated to Canada to seek a new life.

The majestic and flamboyant “monster houses” built by these Hong Kong immigrants with deep pockets have raised quite a lot of eyebrows among local Canadians at the time.

Today these “monster houses” can still be found across well-heeled neighborhoods in the western part of Vancouver, many of which are now owned by cash-flush mainland Chinese.

Over the years, many local Canadians have sold their properties and moved inland in order to maintain their tranquil way of life.

Although Canada is known as a champion of cultural pluralism, many Canadians are actually getting increasingly dismayed at the influx of immigrants in recent years.

Many Canadians are no longer as friendly to new immigrants as they used to be.

Moreover, unlike the “melting pot” approach adopted by the US, which promotes the assimilation of new immigrants into the mainstream American culture, Canada not only allows but actually encourages new immigrants of different ethnicities to preserve their own cultural background and heritage.

As a result, in many local neighborhoods that are predominantly Chinese, the Chinese culture has become mainstream.

According to some of my students who pursued their studies in Canada, in Richmond, Vancouver, where the local population is overwhelmingly Chinese, many white native Canadians often feel that they are the ethnic minority when they walk in the neighborhood.

Still, no matter how Meng’s case is going to play out, an undercurrent of anti-Chinese sentiment may already be looming among the native Canadians.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 30

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal