Focusing on China

(Edmonton) It’s a sign that will surely bring double happiness to those who wish to see stronger links to China. The results of a new survey by the University of Alberta’s China Institute suggest that Albertans are strongly supportive of provincial and federal efforts to diversify the province’s economic linkages.

The survey, conducted this past summer by the Population Research Lab at the U of A, showed that more than two-thirds of Albertans believe that China’s increasing economic strength benefits the province and almost 80 per cent of Albertans see China as an important export market for Alberta’s goods and services.

Further, more than half of those polled felt Alberta should decrease its reliance on the U.S. market, while three-quarters felt that Alberta should trade more with its Asian partners to diversify its economy. However, China Institute director Gordon Houlden cautions that the results should not be interpreted as anti-American sentiment.

“I wouldn’t draw the conclusion that it means that we are going to take our eggs out of the U.S. basket and put them in the China basket; rather, it means that we’d have another basket,” he said. “It’s really an add-on, an alternative. To have only one customer is dangerous. Having options to maintain full employment here is something we need to look to.”

Even on such hot-button topics—welcoming Chinese investment in the province or support for building pipelines to the west coast to export energy to Asia—surveyed Albertans were in favour two-to-one. Overall, Albertans believed that China will play a significant role in future opportunities of people in the province, especially when it comes to welcoming increased tourism from the Land of Nine Domains.

“Concerning increased tourism by Chinese visitors, those numbers are the highest of all�86 per cent,” said Houlden. “Chinese tourists will arrive, but it won’t happen overnight. But there are millions of Chinese travelling abroad every year and they will eventually help our economy.”

Houlden says that the survey is a clear sign that Albertans want to do business with the “Middle Kingdom.” The support he notes is “not universal, but it’s very strong.” And in the instances where respondents remained undecided on some of the questions, Houlden says that indecision highlights an opportunity for government to do more to inform the population on the benefits and ease any concerns of trade with China.

“Whether the government educates the public through statements or the education system, it’s important to address those uncertain numbers—and some will go in each direction—but I think the level of understanding about China is not yet adequate,” he said.

The results of the survey hold good news for both the provincial and federal governments, said Houlden. With both levels of government seeking to build stronger relations with the People’s Republic of China, the survey results signal broad public support to continue with those plans.

“This report should put the wind into government’s sails in terms of efforts to enhance relationships with China,” he said. “For any and all the people in the legislature, including the premier, who have an interest in expanding Alberta’s ties with China, this survey is welcome news; it means you’ve got public support closely tracking government planning.”

The full report can be viewed at the China Institute’s website.