Suzannah Jessep's June 2024 CEO Update

It’s a big week here at the Asia New Zealand Foundation with the launch of our 27th Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples research report on the 18th of June, following what has been another busy but hugely rewarding month.

A graphic from this year's Perceptions of Asia report showing how the regions self report their knowledge of Asia

First conducted in 1997, our annual Perceptions of Asia research provides a unique window into the nature of New Zealand – Asia relations, both at home and abroad.

This year’s survey reveals some encouraging developments. It not only shows more New Zealanders are aware of the importance of Asia to this country than ever before, but it also shows a continuing improvement in knowledge levels.

These are significant results. No matter what metric we use, Asia is going to be a critical part of New Zealand’s future and we need to ensure we’re equipped to navigate everything the region is going to throw at us – whether it’s opportunities or challenges.

Our research also shows that with knowledge comes confidence. The more people know about the Asia region, the more likely they are to consider it worthy of further investment and attention, and the more capable they’re going to feel about navigating it (rather than seeing it as different or complex, and turning away).

On the flip side, we know food, art, culture, community and sports help to bring people together and foster understanding. It is a combination of all of these things – knowledge and cultural understanding – that make us Asia capable.

A word cloud showing why New Zealanders consider a country as friendly to New Zealand

A word cloud showing why New Zealanders consider a country as friendly

This month began with our director of arts, Craig Cooper, leading a group of six emerging visual curators to Vietnam to learn about its arts sector and emerging trends. Through visits such as this, we hope to inspire a new generation of arts practitioners and curators to foster arts collaboration and exchange across Asia.

Last week, the Foundation brought a group of 10 Southeast Asian agribusiness entrepreneurs to New Zealand to meet with local counterparts and exchange ideas. They visited local businesses and attended Hamilton’s Fieldays, and presented at an ‘Asia After Five’ event hosted by the Foundation in Auckland.

That same week, we also hosted leading Philippines expert, Richard Heydarian, who is both a TV host and guest, podcaster, author, academic, and all-round star in Philippines’ foreign policy and strategic outlook. Richard visited Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland, and did a number of speaking engagements, interviews and events with us. We’re very grateful to him for sharing his time and expertise.

A montage of three photos showing curators posing in front of paintings, agribusiness entrepreneurs posing for a group photo, and Richard haydarian speaking to a an audience at an Asia After Five event

Agribusiness entrepreneurs on a site visit to Kōkako coffee roasters (top left); curators at a Hanoi gallery (bottom left(; and Richard Heydarian speaking at an Asia After Five event

Earlier this month, I was in Singapore to attend Asia’s largest defence summit, the Shangri-La Dialogue. The summit was facilitated by Singapore Defence Minister and Asia New Zealand Foundation Honorary Adviser, Dr Ng Eng Hen, and brought together leaders and defence officials from around the world, including New Zealand’s own Defence Minister, Judith Collins.

I’ve written an article outlining my key takeaways (linked to below), so I won’t go into too much detail here, other than to note that this year’s Dialogue was among the more worrying the Foundation has attended. The war in Ukraine, conflict in Gaza, hardening China-US competition, tensions in the South China Sea, the ongoing conflict in Myanmar, and other potential flashpoints across Asia, present an unnerving picture of regional disorder.

Joining me at the Shangri-La Dialogue was the Foundation’s Media Centre manager, Graeme Acton. You can read Graeme’s summit reports on our Media Centre’s website.

Following on from the Shangri-La Dialogue, my next port of call was Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, accompanied by a delegation of New Zealand experts and young leaders, for the 37th Asia Pacific Roundtable.

Hosted by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia, this roundtable brings together leading thinkers from across Southeast Asia to focus on regional dynamics from a local perspective.

It was lovely to catch up with the Foundation’s Honorary Advisers, Professors Thitinan Pongsudhirak and Pavida Pananond, who were visiting from Thailand to be at the Roundtable. As always, it was great to hear their pithy insights and observations.

Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak addressing the room at the Asia Pacific Roundatable

Asia New Zealand Foundation Honorary Adviser Professor Thitinan Pongsudhirak addressing the room at the Asia Pacific Roundtable

On the sidelines of the Roundtable, we hosted a NextGen ‘track II masterclass’ to support and grow emerging scholars from New Zealand and across Asia, and to teach them about track II diplomacy. The Foundation’s own Dr James To facilitated the event and did a superb job.

That’s about it for June! Another busy month, with a great range of events, visitors, research insights, and partnerships. A huge thanks to everyone who’s been involved or supports our work, and to those yet to connect with us, look out for opportunities in our newsletter – particularly Asia After Five events, which are free and a fun, interesting way of meeting people and learning about Asia.

Nga mihi nui,

Suz Jessep