Erin O'Toole is facing mounting pressure from Chinese Conservatives to resign as the federal Conservative leader. His rigid approach to China alienated Chinese-Canadian voters at the cost of three seats in the last election.

The Chinese Canadian Conservative Association said the party needs a less aggressive stance towards Beijing. The call comes amid deteriorating relations with mainland China, following the release of Canadian diplomats Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

A Nanos poll found Canadians became over three times more likely to call relations between Canada and China unfriendly. Forty-three percent of respondents opted for unfriendly and 12 percent for friendly, while another 42 percent picked neutral.

But immigrants from China said while they don't sympathize with the governing Chinese Communist Party, they feel a sense of belonging to China as a nation.

Association spokesman Joe Li said, "Canada started the war" after China detained the two Michaels, reported the National Post. He added Mainland China had a right to fly its planes into Taiwan's air-defence zone and that Canada should not publicly criticize Beijing's human-rights abuses.

Nanos said the poll results paint another picture reflecting "an accumulation effect" of China's rising aggression. Examples include their quashing of democracy in Hong Kong and criminalized dissent in the former British colony, and its acts of genocide against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. Their militarization of the South China sea and recent intimidation tactics against Taiwan also worsened Canadian perceptions of Beijing.

Nearly seventy percent of Canadians reject deepening business ties with China through free-trade deals. Over two-thirds said Canada should delay negotiating a trade deal, up from 47 percent in 2019. Only 19 percent support proceeding with negotiations, down from 43 percent in 2019.

The Association and Li cited other problems with O'Toole's leadership, including a political shift toward the centre and a lack of outreach to Chinese Canadian voters. The Association focused mainly on the alleged "hatred message" toward China in the Conservative election platform. Li said the party suggested he run but contended, "I just don't see myself able to win with this anti-China policy."

"When you keep on attacking China, it sometimes translates as attacking the Chinese community," said the York Region councillor, who supported MacKay's failed leadership bid. "Why don't we leave the destiny of China to the Chinese people who live inside?… Any time you're interfering, what happens? You just raise nationalism."

Former Conservative MP Kenny Chiu pushed a private member's bill critical of China, and alleged supporters of the Chinese Communist Party hounded him during the federal election. The defeated MP said pro-Beijing forces swung votes against him. He lost by 3,000 votes in Steveston-Richmond East.

He suspects an organized campaign to distort the party's message, while state-run media accused O'Toole of an anti-Chinese agenda. On Tuesday, Chiu spoke to Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents about his concerns, but "by that time, it was too late."

Chiu admitted the Conservatives could have done a better job of counteracting misinformation. "We should have anticipated that kind of dirty tricks," he said, adding they should have told the Chinese community it opposed the Chinese government, but not the nation.

The Tory platform document said Xi Jinping represented a "clear and rising threat" to Canada. It recommended several measures, from "decoupling" some China trade to banning Huawei from 5G networks and urging universities against partnering with Chinese state-controlled companies.

They stressed, "our quarrel is not with the people of China — part of an ancient civilization that has contributed much to humanity. We stand especially with Chinese Canadians whose contributions to Canada are immeasurable and who are enduring an appalling rise in anti-Asian hate and discrimination."

The Association's Executive Director Eric Wen said posts implying an anti-Chinese message by the Tories spammed WeChat during the federal election. "This is the concern that was expressed to me by many Mainland Chinese [immigrants]," added Li. "They'd call me: 'What's going on with the leader?'"

Many experts believe Beijing's detention in harsh conditions of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig was a case of "hostage diplomacy" after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou on a US extradition request. Li suggested a natural response from Beijing and praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for using "quiet diplomacy" to end the crisis.

"Who started the war first? Canada did," he said. "They arrested Meng Wanzhou. Then China arrested the two Michaels."