New Zealanders' Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples – 2013 Annual Survey

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Asia New Zealand Foundation with text and analysis by Colmar Brunton

ISBN 978-0-9876637-5-7

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New Zealanders’ Knowledge of Asia and Perceptions of Asia’s Importance This section of the report looks at New Zealanders’ knowledge of Asia, and whether people believed that New Zealand was doing enough to ensure we are equipped to engage confidently with Asia in future.

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 Talking with Asia New Zealand’s Dr Andrew Butcher, the panel of Tony Browne, Tahu Kukutai and Jason Young discuss the findings of the 2013 Perceptions of Asia research, with particular focus on New Zealanders’ attitudes to languages, investment and general attitudes to Asia and Asian peoples.


While most New Zealanders felt they knew little or almost nothing about Asia themselves, there was widespread agreement that the Asian region is important to the country’s future. Additionally, New Zealanders believed that more needed to be done to prepare young people to engage confidentially with Asia, and to help New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions.

Key findings in this section were as follows:

  • Two-thirds of New Zealanders (66 percent) felt they knew little or almost nothing about Asia
  • When people thought of Asia, the first things that came to mind were countries or geographic features of Asia (58 percent), Asian people themselves (29 percent), and Asian food (28 percent)
  • Relative to 2012, the importance of Asia had increased in the eyes of New Zealanders (up from 77 percent to 80 percent in 2013)
  • Asia was viewed as the second most important region to New Zealand’s future, behind Australia (on 87 percent)
  • The vast majority of New Zealanders (89 percent) believed it was important for New Zealand to develop ties with Asia
  • Fifty-eight percent of New Zealanders believed this country should do more to prepare young New Zealanders to engage confidently with Asia
  • Sixty-three percent of New Zealanders believed this country should do more to help New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions.

New Zealanders’ knowledge of Asia

Most New Zealanders felt they knew little or almost nothing about Asia

Two-thirds (66 percent) of New Zealanders said they knew a little or almost nothing about Asia. While one in three (34 percent) said they knew at least a fair amount, very few (6 percent) felt they knew a lot about Asia.

How much do you feel you know about Asia?

Base: All New Zealanders (n=1,000)

 

Who knew more or less about Asia?

The following groups were more likely than average (34 percent) to say that they knew at least a fair amount about Asia:

  • Those aged 60 years or more (41 percent)
  • Asian people (65 percent)
  • Those born outside New Zealand, including Asian and non-Asian people (44 percent)
  • Those living in high-income households, with annual incomes over $100,000 (41 percent).

The following groups were more likely than average (66 percent) to say they knew a little or almost nothing about Asia:

  • Dunedin residents (83 percent)
  • Those living in small towns and rural areas (72 percent, compared with 64 percent who lived in the urban cities).

When people thought of Asia, the first things that came to mind were geographic features of Asia, Asian people themselves, and Asian food

Without prompting with possible answers, we asked people to tell us what came to mind when they thought about Asia. Responses were wide ranging, so we have grouped them into themes. We also show some of the more specific mentions to better explain some themes.

What comes to mind when people think about Asia

Overall themes (unprompted)

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When thinking about Asia, New Zealanders were most likely to think about a specific country or a geographic feature of Asia [1], including China, the size of the population of Asia, and Japan. The next most common things that came to mind related to Asian people themselves, including where they were from and what they were like, and Asian food.


During the qualitative forum we explored New Zealanders’ knowledge of Asia in further detail

Forum participants did not feel they had a deep knowledge of Asia and its peoples, and they wanted a better understanding of Asian cultures

The qualitative phase of the research explored what people might want to know about Asia. While geography and food featured strongly as themes in the quantitative survey, cultural understanding was the strong theme to emerge from the qualitative phase. Participants recognised that they did not have an in-depth knowledge about Asia and its peoples. They did not always understand many aspects of how Asians behaved – for example:

  • Why do they have such strong ties to each other and their families?
  • Where does their work ethic come from?
  • What are their customs and how do they compare with my own?

I always find it weird when they look at houses to rent or buy and they come in with a compass.

Male, 35 to 39 years old, non-New Zealand born

Most Asians have an excellent work ethic and they are prepared to do the hard tasks that others may turn up their nose at. It would be good to discuss what motivates Asians.

Female, 40 to 49 years old, non-New Zealand born

People expressed a lack of understanding about aspects of Asian cultures. Some people in the qualitative research would have liked a better understanding, particularly those who came into contact with Asians on a regular basis (at work, and in their neighbourhoods and churches). Some cultural aspects in which participants were interested related to understanding how immigrants to New Zealand might better ‘fit in’ without losing their own sense of identity. For example, they mentioned how Samoan and Tongan migrants have brought their own cultural traditions to New Zealand, but have also integrated into the New Zealand culture. Participants would have liked to see Asians doing the same, because they believed that a lack of understanding (on both sides) could inhibit good community relationships and social integration. The following quotes provide insights into the topics of interest to forum participants and why they would like to know more about these aspects of Asian cultures.

This woman would have liked to include more Asians in school activities.

I would like to know more about the cultural mores which might impact on how Asian individuals and families might relate to our customs when living in New Zealand. For example, at our school we notice that Asian families participate less in our school events than non-Asians. Perhaps we are organising events that somehow do not ‘fit’ with something about Asian culture and this is not desirable from a school community point of view.

Female, 40 to 49 years old, New Zealand born

This man would have liked to know everything he could.

Personally I’d like to gain a deeper understanding of the variety and types of ethnic celebrations and holidays, religious teachings (and adherence to same), local and regional cuisine and its preparation, political views, local and regional government and all schisms, dress and etiquette in formal and non-formal situations, health and elderly care, fiscal matters and the regional economy, attitudes to foreigners and ‘westernisation’ effects, how the typical Asian family interacts and goes about the activities of daily life, some aspects of Asian arts and music and its history.

Male, 50 to 59 years old, New Zealand born

This man would have liked to understand and connect better with new Asian migrants in his area.

How our countries interact or what schemes there are that could enrich relations at a deeper level (than tourism and sister city junkets). In a small rural settlement where the Filipino farm workers are now a significant positive part of our community I only know about them through church connections.

Male, 50 to 59 years old, New Zealand born

This woman would have liked to know about etiquette and social protocols so she did the right thing when visiting Asia.

The things I would like to know about Asian cultures, would be their beliefs such as religion, what they do on a daily basis to do with their beliefs, such as offering food to their gods. The other thing that I would like to know about is what is expected when you visit their homes, what would be the respectful things that would be done.

Female, 18 to 19 years old, New Zealand born

Contact and interactions with Asian people can prompt New Zealanders to find out more about Asia

The people in the qualitative research were not proactively researching information about Asia unless something prompted them to do so. Examples of prompts were personal interactions, such as meeting a new Asian colleague, being invited to an Asian person’s home, and meeting a new Asian church member. Other types of prompt included current events and media information about festivals such as Diwali, and news about disasters in Asian countries. These events could prompt people to want to understand more about particular aspects of Asian cultures. Some less positive prompts included seeing tourists and Asian migrants and feeling uncomfortable or lacking understanding about why they behaved the way they did.

  • People sought out information from both personal sources and wider channels and mass media avenues

People looked to a range of sources of information about particular topics or aspects of Asian cultures that interested them at the time. Examples of where people expected to find information about Asia included [2]:

  • Googling a query, for example ‘Chinese New Year’
  • Wikipedia
  • Websites such as the Office of Ethnic Affairs website
  • Media and news websites [3]
  • TV shows and documentaries (history and documentary channels)
  • Local community newspapers and radio stations
  • Radio New Zealand specialist programmes
  • Libraries and books
  • Pay TV access to Asian TV channels (CNBC Asia-Pacific News)
  • Travel books and tourist websites (particularly for those intending to travel).

People who knew Asian people well (such as friends and colleagues) regarded these people as very valuable direct sources of information about aspects of Asian lifestyles and cultures. People who did not know anyone from Asia, or who did not have regular contact with Asian people, felt that knowing someone Asian would be a good way to understand aspects of Asian culture. While people felt there were more Asians in New Zealand overall, they themselves might not always have had the opportunities to interact with them at the level where they felt they could ask questions about their cultures, and that promoted cross-cultural understanding. Visiting Asia was also seen as a valuable source of information about Asia. This could be either indirectly (hearing about travels from friends, family and colleagues who had visited Asian countries) or directly, by visiting personally. Some people in the qualitative research mentioned that living in, or visiting, Asian countries had strongly influenced their views and levels of understanding of Asia.

I was fortunate in being able to live and work in several Asian countries for 27 years and very much reflects the value of that period of my life. I believe that the most effective way of building a relationship with Asia and Asian people is to forget such things as ‘which language should I learn?’ and ‘political correctness’. Most Asians are keen to learn or improve their knowledge of English which is now widely spoken in most Asian countries. Instead concentrate on geography, main cities and towns, populations and weather seasons. When meeting Asian people remember that they are at least our equal and don’t be too surprised to find that in some matters, such as infrastructure and productivity, they are way ahead of New Zealand.

Male, 70+ years old, non-New Zealand born

The perceived importance of the Asian region

Although respondents did not generally have an in-depth knowledge of Asia, they saw Asia as very important to our country’s future.

While there were gaps in New Zealanders’ personal knowledge of Asia, it was clear that as a nation we appreciate the importance of the Asian region. Asia was viewed as the second most important region to New Zealand’s future, behind Australia.

Importance of other regions/countries to New Zealand’s future – Percentage of New Zealanders who gave an importance rating of 4 or 5 (out of 5)

Base: All New Zealanders, excluding those who said ‘don’t know’

New Zealanders tended to see the benefits of a relationship with Asia in mainly economic terms

People were asked to think about New Zealand in the next 10 to 20 years, and to rate the impacts of a range of activities on New Zealand’s future. As in previous years, exports to and tourism from Asia were seen as having the greatest positive impacts on our country’s future.

Overall figure label – Percentage of New Zealanders who say each will have a positive impact in the next 10 to 20 years

Base: All New Zealanders, excluding those who said ‘don’t know’

Relative to 2012, the importance of Asia had increased in the eyes of New Zealanders

Since 2012 there has been an increase in New Zealanders’ views on the importance of Asia to New Zealand’s future.[4] There are probably a number of reasons for this increase. One of them is the Fonterra botulism scare in 2013, which likely increased awareness of Asia as a significant export market and contributor to New Zealand’s economic growth. The recall of media stories on Asia-related business and economic issues nearly doubled in 2013, due mainly to the Fonterra botulism scare. In 2012 one-third (33 percent) of those aware of media stories about Asia recalled stories focused on business and economic issues – this almost doubled to two-thirds (63 percent) in 2013.


Recall of media in the previous three months

What people have seen, heard or read about Asia-related events, issues or people in the previous three months

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Recall of media in the previous three months

What people have seen, heard or read about Asia-related events, issues or people in the previous three months

Business and economic issues in 2013 (mentioned by 3% or more)

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As well as revealing an increase in perceptions of the general importance of Asia to New Zealand’s future, the findings showed that in 2013 more New Zealanders saw the following specific activities as having positive impacts on New Zealand:

  • Asian tourism in New Zealand (up 5 points since last year)
  • Free trade agreements between New Zealand and Asia (up 5 points)
  • Asia as a tourist destination for New Zealanders (up 5 points)
  • Imports from Asia to New Zealand (up 6 points)
  • Asian cultures and traditions (up 6 points).

Throughout the course of this research we saw that changes in New Zealanders’ views about the importance and benefits of a relationship with Asia tended to coincide with changes in public economic optimism. The decrease in the importance of Asia in the 2012 survey coincided with a sustained period of low optimism in New Zealand. In contrast, optimism was high during the 2011 survey, at around the time of the Rugby World Cup. Finally, when the 2013 survey was carried out, economic optimism was the highest observed in more than three years.[5] In addition, events during 2012 and 2013 may have played a role in some of the specific increases listed above. For example, an increased emphasis on free trade/business relationships with Asian countries following the start of negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership in late 2012, and the ongoing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, may have played some part in the increased importance placed on free trade agreements with, and imports from, Asia. Coverage of the predicted increase in Chinese visitors to New Zealand during the Prime Minister’s visit to China, in April 2013[6], may have contributed to the rise in perceptions of the importance of Asian tourism and Asian cultures and traditions to New Zealand.


 The importance of developing ties with Asia

The vast majority of New Zealanders believed it was important for New Zealand to develop ties with Asia

Nine out of every 10 New Zealanders (89 percent) believed it was important for the country to develop cultural and economic ties with the peoples and countries of Asia.

Importance of developing ties with Asia – Percentage that think it is very or quite important for New Zealand to develop cultural and economic ties with the peoples and countries of Asia

Base: All New Zealanders (n 2010=1,000, n 2011=1,105, n 2012=1,000, n 2013=1,000)

In 2013 New Zealanders saw developing cultural and economic ties with Asia as more important than they did in 2012. Looking further back it appears that 2012 was an unusual year for this measure, with the 2013 score being consistent with those of every year except 2012.


New Zealanders felt we needed to do more to develop ties with Asia

While the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders believed that it was important for the country to develop cultural and economic ties with Asia, most thought that as a country we needed to do more to create these links. Around six in 10 New Zealanders thought we needed to do more to help New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions (63 percent), and to prepare young New Zealanders to engage confidently with Asia (58 percent). Relatively fewer New Zealanders felt we should do more to develop business links with Asia. Over half (53 percent) thought that enough was being done in this area, and close to one-third (30 percent) believed we could be doing more.

Preparing young New Zealanders to engage confidently with Asia

Base: All New Zealanders (n 2010=1,000, n 2011=1,105, n 2012=1,000, n 2013=1,000)

Developing links between businesses in New Zealand and Asia

Base: All New Zealanders (n 2010=1,000, n 2011=1,105, n 2012=1,000, n 2013=1,000)

Helping New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions

Base: All New Zealanders (n 2010=1,000, n 2011=1,105, n 2012=1,000, n 2013=1,000)

Demographic differences

The impacts of each of the activities shown above on New Zealand’s future were seen differently by different groups of New Zealanders. These differences are outlined below.

Preparing young New Zealanders to engage confidently with Asia

Those who lived in urban centres were more likely than those in small towns/rural areas to feel that New Zealand was not doing enough to prepare young New Zealanders to engage confidently with Asia (61 percent vs. 54 percent).

Developing links between businesses in New Zealand and Asia

Men were more likely than women to believe that New Zealand needed to do more to develop business links with Asia (36 percent vs. 24 percent). Urban dwellers were more likely than those in provincial/rural areas to think that more needed to be done to develop links between New Zealand and Asian businesses (35 percent vs. 23 percent). In particular, those in provincial areas were less likely to think that New Zealand was not doing enough in this area (21 percent).

Helping New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions

People in their 30s were more likely than average to think that more needed to be done to help New Zealanders understand Asian cultures and traditions (75 percent). Older New Zealanders, over the age of 70, were less likely than average to think this (50 percent).


 

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