An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Lack of confidence means Kiwis risk missing opportunities in Asia

An Asia New Zealand Foundation survey has found many New Zealanders lack confidence in engaging with Asia, despite recognising the importance Asia has to New Zealand. 

Watch an animated infographic of some of the survey's key findings.

The Foundation’s New Zealanders' Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples annual survey finds eight out of ten New Zealanders say that Asia is important to New Zealand in economic and social terms, yet two-thirds of us say that we know little or nothing about Asia.

Simon Draper, Executive Director of the Asia New Zealand Foundation says that knowledge and understanding of Asia are key to making the most of the growing opportunities for New Zealanders in the region. Without it, New Zealanders risk missing out.

“Success with Asia is built on relationships, not just transactions,” says Draper. “Without this understanding – and the confidence to give it a go – we risk missing out on opportunities not only in business development and trade but also in education, career development and travel.  These opportunities can be life-changing.”

Around a third of New Zealanders say they know a fair amount or a lot of Asia – less than for Australia, Europe, the South Pacific and North America. For some (a quarter), there is a ‘conscious lack of knowledge’. This group said they had a fair amount, or a lot, to do with Asian cultures or peoples. But they also felt they knew little or nothing about Asia.

“We don’t back ourselves in our knowledge of Asia,” says Draper.  “The Foundation suspects this is because the more someone may learn about Asia, the more they realise they don’t know enough. Asia is a large and very diverse region.”

Meanwhile, another four in ten New Zealanders say they have limited knowledge of Asia and limited involvement with Asian cultures.

“So collectively we have work to do in addressing this confidence deficit, as it affects our ability to develop relationships and engage well in the region.”

Those who say they know at least a fair amount about Asia are also more likely to report more positive feelings about Asia and Asian peoples.

Along with the high recognition of the importance of Asia, the survey found strong demand to learn languages. The research found that eight in ten New Zealanders said that school children should learn a language other than English.

Just over half (53%) of those who think children should learn another language said it should be Chinese. Japanese was mentioned by around a fifth.

“There are so many opportunities for young leaders, entrepreneurs and travellers to succeed in Asia,” says Draper.  “There are two things New Zealanders can do – the first one is to have the confidence to try – you may know more than you think you do.  It’s not hard to travel and work in many Asian countries without knowing the language, so don’t let this put you off giving it a go.

“The second is to get involved and actively learn.  The Asia New Zealand Foundation was established to help New Zealanders do this, and we have a wide range of programmes to develop confidence amongst New Zealand leaders in the arts, education, media, business and academic sectors.”  

About the survey

  • The Asia New Zealand Foundation has been researching New Zealanders’ attitudes towards Asia and its peoples on an annual basis since 1997.  This has allowed us to chart the changing perceptions of Asia and Asian peoples in New Zealand.
  • The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s job is to equip New Zealanders to thrive in Asia.  Research tells us an understanding of Asia is necessary to succeed in Asia.  Also, the more confident New Zealanders feel about Asia, the more likely they are to thrive in Asia.  This is the motivation for these reports – to measure that understanding and confidence.
  • This report presents the results of a survey of the general public in New Zealand, conducted during late July and August 2016. The survey interviewed a random sample of 1,000 New Zealanders aged 15 years and over. The results have been weighted so they are representative of New Zealanders by key demographics such as age, gender, household size, ethnicity, and location.

About the Asia New Zealand Foundation

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is New Zealand’s leading non-government authority on Asia.  It is a non-partisan, non-profit organisation, established in 1994 to build New Zealanders’ knowledge and understanding of Asia.

The Foundation works in partnership with influential individuals and organisations in New Zealand and Asia to provide high-level forums, cultural events, international collaborations, school programmes and professional development opportunities.  Its activities cover more than 20 countries in Asia and are delivered through seven programmes.

For more information:

Rebecca Inoue-Palmer
Asia New Zealand Foundation Media Centre Manager
04 470 8701

Asia New Zealand Foundation trustees respond to New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples:

Hon Steve Maharey (CNZM), Asia New Zealand Foundation Deputy Chairman

“If you have a look at our education system, it is fundamentally Eurocentric. Whether it’s assessment, the way we teach, or the curriculum we provide, it tends to come from a particular worldview. People like me are without a doubt looking through lenses at the world that have been heavily influenced by being part of an English-based education system.

“That makes it a challenge for me to be able to connect easily with this new world that is taking shape. And that is true of most people who have been through the education system in this country. It doesn’t make it wrong, it just makes it of its time.”

He lists several steps that should be taken to shift this worldview and prepare young people for the future: increasing curriculum content about Asian cultures, improving access to Asian languages, increasing the number of teachers of Asian heritage, and encouraging more people to first-hand experiences in Asia.

“People do need to experience Asia first-hand. I’ve been going back and forward to China in particular for 30 years and I feel like I know almost nothing. I know a lot more than 30 years ago but it takes a long time to get to really know a country.

“But that experience is extremely important. The barriers start to drop, you can talk to people from other cultures and recognise you can tell a joke and they will laugh at that same joke.   You don’t have that reticence. You can share a story about your family and realise that it’s okay to share a story.”

Lyn Lim (MNZM), Asia New Zealand Foundation trustee, Partner at Forest Harrison Lawyers

“Auckland’s population is culturally diverse. From the multicultural communities’ perspective, I believe there is a need to understand the bicultural context of our nation and the role our multicultural communities can have to make this an even better place. There is so much we can learn from each other and it is not just the discussion centred solely around media soundbites.

“Understanding goes both ways. For the new migrants who come here, if they understand the historic context of biculturalism, how this nation was built from the sweat, blood and tears of those who have came before, they would have better understanding and be proud of our heritage. They would want to be a part of it and build further on it. I came here 30 years ago but it was probably only after 10 years I learnt about more about the historical context. If I had learnt more earlier, I would have less trepidation and be more courageous in seeking more opportunity for interactions. 

“It’s great that interest in Asia among young New Zealanders has increased. Having the knowledge and confidence of Asia allows young people to think beyond the traditional ‘destinations’ for the OE. They come back to New Zealand with more understanding and they are excited about the possibilities. Asia financial centres and cities offer tremendous opportunity to gain work experience and skills and opportunities.”

Rob Fyfe, CEO of Icebreaker and New Zealand Honorary Adviser for the Asia New Zealand Foundation

“With the political signals from the White House suggesting a more protectionist USA and political uncertainty intensifying in Europe, business people I interact with tell me they expect Asia to become significantly more important to New Zealand over the next 4-5 years.

“The most common challenge I hear New Zealand businesspeople voice is the difficulty in finding business partners in Asia to work with to advance their business objectives. Lack of understanding of cultural differences, lack of trust, communication barriers and general lack of Asian knowledge often inhibit the creation of long term stable business relationships.

“However, when these barriers are overcome, the rewards and market opportunity are enormous.

“When I am in Asia I find that New Zealand and New Zealanders are highly valued and respected, and often I’m interacting with people who know far more about me, my culture and my country than I know about theirs.  The more I invest in building my understanding of a new Asian country, its history, current affairs and culture, building trust and demonstrating respect the greater success I have in establishing meaningful business relationships.”

Watch a video of past participants on Foundation Asia experiences discuss what they took away from their time in Asia. 

Find out more

16 March 2017