Simon Draper's February 2021 Update

The events of this week were not exactly how we would have liked to usher in the year of the Ox. Hopefully by next week we’re back on track and viewing this most recent scare as merely a timely reminder that when it comes to this virus we’re not out of the woods yet.

Being able to adapt to changing situations is something we've all become proficient at over the past year. Our business internships are an example of how the Foundation has taken a programme that we have been running for many years and amended it to reflect changing circumstances.

We presently have nine students and recent graduates undertaking or about to begin online internships with Asian companies and partner organisations. While it's a shame the students could not do their internships in-country, the core value of the internships remains undiminished.

Domestic events and activities in the arts and culture space have also provided us with some great opportunities to “experience Asia” in our homes, towns and cities, and we look forward to others as Covid levels permit. 

For this newsletter, I thought I’d mention a few of the areas where the Foundation will be engaging more closely this year.

Lee Ren Xin and Paul Timing's IN TOUCH arts commission brings together a series of photographs taken in and around her neighbourhood in Petaling Jaya


We know New Zealanders’ perceptions of China are important to perceptions of Asia as a whole, and to our work here at the Asia New Zealand Foundation. Our most recent Perceptions of Asia report found that the word New Zealanders associate most closely with Asia is the word “China”. 

China’s been in the news in New Zealand a lot more in recent years; our research also shows that New Zealanders have a spectrum of views, from welcoming China’s economic rise and the opportunities that it has given New Zealand businesses, to concern about political and security implications. A search of our website shows some 260 articles about China over recent years.

We know New Zealanders are interested in learning more about China. But (like other parts of Asia) growing New Zealanders’ understanding and knowledge of China has obviously become more difficult over the past year, especially in some interesting areas that receive less media attention. Covid-19 has left two-way tourism, business travel, education exchanges and other people-to-people contact off-limits.

There’s a lot to watch in relation to China in 2021: the Chinese Communist Party marks its centenary this year (it will interesting to see how China’s leaders talk about this to the rest of the world); the country is about to set a new five-year plan; and China will play an important role in global vaccine production and supply.  We’ll be talking about these topics, and more, in roundtables and events.

We’ve also noticed there’s more interest in understanding contemporary China – innovations and social trends, the green economy, gaming, pop culture, sport. So we’re planning to produce more material on those topics as well, and to support activities that help grow understanding of these various aspects of China.  


My last international trip was to India, just over a year ago, as part of a business delegation accompanying a ministerial mission.  That trip highlighted the diverse strands of the New Zealand-India relationship and the potential to grow it more – as did a report we published the same month.

While it doesn’t grab New Zealand media headlines as much as China, India’s global influence – and its ambition – is growing.  It is a significant player in multilateral, political, democracy, defence, health and security space. New Zealand and India enjoy strong people-to-people relationships,  have shared interests in regional stability and security, and a diversity of cooperation and connection through a range of sectors. Like China, India will be a major player when it comes to Covid vaccines, so it’s definitely a country to watch in 2021.

However, New Zealand has tended to look at India through a trade-focused lens, and much of our focus has been on the prospects of securing an FTA. This trade focus risks being accentuated further as our countries grapple with Covid-19 recovery and continue to be geographically separated due to restricted travel. At the Foundation we’re planning a series of roundtables to reflect on the relationship and how it might be progressed in new ways. 

Regional outreach 

Leadership network members and Foundation staff with Minister Jan Tenetti at the Rethinking Leadership hui in Tauranga

At the other end of the spectrum – away from the superpowers in Asia – Foundation staff have been planning engagement beyond our city bases in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. We’re not limiting the regions we work with but we have chosen three priority regions to particularly focus on this year for a coordinated approach: Tauranga, Taranaki and Nelson-Marlborough. These regions engage with Asia in a variety of ways, for instance, through exports, investment and people-to-people links, and would usually be hosting international students and tourists in the usual course of affairs.   

Over the past month we were pleased to be able to hold an event with our Leadership Network in Tauranga, and to learn more about that region’s engagement with Asia. And staff from our sports and education programme visited schools and organised workshops in Nelson-Marlborough last week alongside Black Sticks player Richard Joyce, a member of our Leadership Network who spoke about his experiences playing in Asia. 

We’ve also visited Palmerston North and Dunedin, to offer “NextGen” training opportunities for tertiary students and young professionals and to connect with stakeholders. 

We look forward to sharing more of our regional work in future newsletters.

Simon Draper