Simon Draper: "As we take stock and begin New Zealand’s recovery, let’s not forget the good that engagement with Asia can and will play."
It’s fair to say that the past few months have been a test of people and systems, but looking back I’m pleased with how everyone coped, and even added a few technological strings to their bows along the way.
This week we launched our Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples annual survey, which the Foundation has been undertaking since 1997. It’s pleasing to see positive trends – New Zealanders are becoming more knowledgeable and confident in Asia, largely due to increasing connections at home and abroad. Despite this, New Zealanders still feel less knowledgeable about Asia than they do about the likes of Europe and the US. We still have a long way to go before we can truly consider ourselves an Asia savvy country.
This year’s survey is a little different from previous years in that we included two additional mini polls – one that looked at how the Christchurch terror attacks impacted New Zealanders' perceptions of Asia, and the other conducted after the onset of COVID-19 to see how the new coronavirus might have changed attitudes.
It was heartening to see that following the terror attacks in Christchurch, which disproportionately impacted people of Asian ethnicity, we saw people saying more should be done to build closer relations and understanding of peoples of Asia.
Perhaps surprisingly, the post-COVID poll showed more New Zealanders (79 percent in March 2020 compared to 67 percent in November 2019) felt it was important for New Zealand to develop political, economic and social ties with Asia.
On a less positive note, some (38 per cent) felt the pandemic had negatively impacted their view of Asia and almost half (47 per cent) of respondents felt the outbreak will have a long-lasting impact on New Zealand's relations with region.
It would be unfortunate if the pandemic was to negatively impact New Zealand’s relations with Asia, as it is evident that New Zealand’s recovery will be inextricably tied to the region.
As I wrote in a recent Stuff article, while bigger countries might try to focus on building self-sufficient, insulated economies, in New Zealand we’ll need to work to re-connect, firstly to Australia through our trans-Tasman bubble, and then with the Pacific and Asia.
We have strong relationships with many countries in Asia, so much of the groundwork has already been done.
As we take stock and begin New Zealand’s recovery, let’s not forget the good that engagement with Asia can and will play. Indeed it is at testing times such as these, I would argue, that we need to redouble our efforts to maintain our connectedness with the region.
Mā te wā