Connections matter:
2018 Perceptions of Asia survey


Increased personal connections and travel to Asia are helping to make New Zealanders feel more knowledgeable about the region, research from the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono finds.

The Foundation’s latest Perceptions of Asia report shows a marked increase in New Zealanders’ self-assessed knowledge of Asia compared to five years ago. Nearly half of all New Zealanders (48 percent) feel they know at least a fair amount about Asia, compared to 33 percent in 2013.

The increase in self-assessed knowledge is particularly significant for young people. In 2018, 47 percent of those aged under 30 said they knew at least a fair amount about Asia, up from 30 percent in 2013.

Watch a slideshow highlighting some of the key findings from this year's Perceptions of Asia survey

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper says the findings suggest a turning point in the way that New Zealanders understand Asia.

“Asia is starting to become more familiar to New Zealanders, but the knowledge and confidence they have gained are coming from a wider variety of sources than we have perhaps seen in the past.

“The survey suggests social media and Asian entertainment forms are helping young New Zealanders connect with Asia in new ways. That’s coupled with demographic and cultural changes, meaning under-30s are learning more about Asia from their peers. And the survey suggests they in turn are passing their knowledge on to older generations.”

The Foundation has been tracking New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia since 1997. The latest survey, prepared by Colmar Brunton, was completed by 2000 New Zealanders in late 2018.  

The findings show that international travel is playing an important role as an entry point to understanding Asia. Nearly half of those surveyed had lived in Asia or travelled to the region for more than just a stopover.

Mr Draper says the report confirms how important personal experiences are when it comes to building knowledge and confidence about Asia. “Those New Zealanders who have a personal connection with Asia are more likely to feel knowledgeable about the region – whether they’ve gained it through their personal relationships, language learning, cultural involvement or travel to Asia.

“And from there, they’re more likely to view New Zealand’s relationship with Asia positively and to see the region as important to the country’s future.”

 “However, the research also shows we still need to both broaden and deepen our understanding of the region. New Zealanders feel they know North Asia best – 38 percent say they know at least a fair amount. They feel far less knowledgeable about South Asia, with only 20 percent describing themselves as knowing a fair amount, while the score for Southeast Asia was 31 percent.”   

The survey also asks New Zealanders about their perceptions of other countries. New Zealanders continue to think most countries are friendly towards New Zealand. They view “friendliest” countries as Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada, followed by Japan and Singapore.

Some countries are perceived to be less friendly toward New Zealand than they were a year ago. China dropped 13 percentage points in its perceived friendliness to New Zealand between 2017 and 2018, while India and Russia dropped eight percentage points.

Meanwhile, Russia, China and the United States of America have risen as perceived threats since 2017. North Korea remains the biggest perceived threat to New Zealand, though this is down from 56 percent in 2017 to 31 percent in 2018. 

“New Zealanders’ perceptions of which countries are ‘friendly’ and which are seen as a threat can move quite a bit year-on-year in response to international events and the resulting media coverage,” Mr Draper says. 

He says the report helps the Asia New Zealand Foundation in its work equipping New Zealanders to thrive in Asia because it provides a snapshot of where our knowledge gaps are.

Earlier this year, the Asia New Zealand Foundation also published a report on perceptions of Asia in Te Ao Māori. Read that report here.

Other report findings:

  • Eighty-one percent of New Zealanders think it is either important or very important for New Zealand to develop economic and cultural ties with Asia.
  • Most New Zealanders (78 percent) think learning an Asian language would benefit New Zealand children.
  • New Zealanders are generally positive about the impact of Asia on the economy. Tourism from Asia (76 percent), economic growth in the region (65 percent), and investment into New Zealand (62 percent) are seen to have somewhat or very positive impacts. Older people are more positive about Asia’s economic growth.
  • The survey shows a significant rise in the percentage of New Zealanders who feel not enough is being done to develop business links between New Zealand and Asia. In 2018, 46 percent of respondents said not enough was being done – up from 30 percent in 2013.
  • Only 40 percent of New Zealanders surveyed in 2018 could recall Asia-related media coverage in the previous three months, compared to 70 percent in 2013. But New Zealanders felt the media sentiment toward Asia was more positive than five years earlier. While mainstream media is the main source of information for New Zealanders, the survey shows social media and pop culture are increasingly important for young people.
  • Awareness of China’s Belt and Road Initiative is rising, with 44 percent of those surveyed having heard of it (up eight percentage points in a year). Most people are neutral or positive about it.
  • About half (48 percent) of those surveyed knew Japan was hosting the Rugby World Cup this year, while 34 percent knew Japan was hosting the next Olympics in 2020.
  • General awareness of APEC is high – 82 percent of those surveyed said they had heard of APEC, but only 6 percent thought they knew “a fair amount” about it. Four out of five New Zealanders did not know New Zealand was hosting APEC in 2021.

For more information contact:

Rebecca Inoue-Palmer
Director media and communications 04 470 8701
[email protected]