Since Don McKinnon and I initiated the Asia New Zealand Foundation (then known as Asia 2000) in 1994, it has been at the forefront of strengthening New Zealanders’ involvement with, and understanding of, the peoples and countries of Asia.
In 2014 we celebrate the Foundation’s 20th anniversary. It has been a busy two decades as our activities and relationships in the areas of business, education, arts and culture, media, research, Track II (informal diplomacy) and the Leadership Network have continued to develop, diversify and flourish. The Foundation is large in ambition but small in resources, so necessarily much of what we do involved prompting, facilitating and being a catalyst for others to act.
We have supported local businesses as they’ve looked to Asia, provided numerous media and business grants and internships, and helped to raise Asia awareness in schools.
Thanks to the Foundation, thousands of New Zealanders have been introduced to Asian cultural traditions through the Chinese Lantern Festival, the Diwali Festival of Lights and the Southeast Asian Night Market. We have facilitated residencies and professional development for New Zealand artists in many Asian countries and brought hundreds of Asian artists to work and perform in New Zealand.
In the past seven years members of our Leadership Network have been helping to forge New Zealand’s future relations with Asia. We have successfully led New Zealand’s Track II diplomacy engagement in the region, and commissioned academic research on topical Asian issues.
It would be fair to say that when the Foundation was established in 1994 the focus was on ‘over there’, i.e. programmes that facilitated New Zealanders trading and working in Asia. If there has been one major trend to which we have responded in the intervening 20 years it is a recognition that our future with Asia is also made in New Zealand.
How we evolve as a society in which people of Asian descent are a significant part is now an inseparable part of thriving in Asia.
The results of the 2013 Census confirm that New Zealand’s demography is changing and that Asian New Zealanders will play an increasingly important role in shaping New Zealand’s future.
Census results show that New Zealand’s Asian population has climbed to 472,000, up from 355,000 in 2006. Nearly one in eight people identifies themselves as being of Asian ethnicity, up from about one in 11 in 2006, a proportion that rises to one in five in Auckland.
This is a good occasion to remind ourselves that the term ‘New Zealander’ is not exclusive to people of Māori or European heritage. Likewise, the words ‘Asian’ and ‘foreign’ are not interchangeable.
The Census also showed that Asia was the most common region of birth for people born overseas. The percentage of overseas-born people living in New Zealand who were born in Asia has been increasing, rising to 31.6 percent in 2013.
For those born overseas, the People’s Republic of China was the second most common country of birth (89,121 people), behind England (215,589 people). India was the third most common country of birth (67,176 people), ahead of Australia (62,712 people).
The Asian ethnicity results in the 2013 Census reflect a very diverse group of people – including New Zealand-born people of Asian heritage, and immigrants from throughout the Asian region and beyond.
The changing demography of New Zealand in part reflects our growing economic ties to Asia, but it is important to remember that these changes haven’t happened overnight.
Whether New Zealand-born or immigrants, Asian New Zealanders have made numerous contributions to every aspect of New Zealand society in more than 150 years. They include early immigrants such as Choie Sew Hoy, who settled in Dunedin in the 1860s.
Today we have acclaimed surgeon Professor Swee Tan (who was a finalist for the 2013 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year award), golfing star Lydia Ko and Black Cap Ish Sodhi – to name just three. Numerous others are making contributions to politics, education, the arts, the not-for-profit sector, business and science.
This diversity of ethnicities puts New Zealand in an excellent position for building strong links across the whole region, and there is no doubt that in recent years New Zealand has made considerable progress towards becoming more engaged with Asia.
Research released by the Foundation in October showed that there is much to celebrate in New Zealand’s relationship with Asia. New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples: 1997-2011 tracked New Zealanders’ opinions in the past 15 years. It found that as immigration has led to increased contact with Asian people in that period, positive feelings about Asia have grown. And the more contact that non-Asian New Zealanders have had with Asian people, the more positive they feel about them.
In 1997 only 32 percent of New Zealanders considered the impact of Asian immigration to be positive, despite the economic benefits of trade between Asia and New Zealand and Asian tourism in New Zealand.
In 2011 55 percent of those surveyed viewed Asian immigration to New Zealand as positive. Most New Zealanders agreed that Asian people contributed significantly to the economy (83 percent) and brought valuable cultural diversity to New Zealand (79 percent).
The challenge ahead is how we continue to build on the valuable people-to-people links and meaningful conversations with Asia that have been forged both within New Zealand and across the Asian region in the past 20 years.
As we celebrate our 20th anniversary and reflect on our achievements, it is a good time to look ahead and set our sights on how we want to shape the future so that all New Zealanders can thrive in the Asian century.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of the Foundation’s 14 honorary advisers. The advisers have been invaluable throughout the Foundation’s 20-year history, in the context of both giving advice and supporting New Zealand’s activities in Asia.
I would like to thank John McKinnon, executive director, for his excellent work during the year and for continuing to lead a team of highly capable and talented staff.
May I also take this opportunity to thank departing board member Wally Stone for his significant contribution to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
My thanks to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, other ministers and parliamentarians from all parties who have participated in and supported the Foundation’s activities throughout the year, my fellow members of the board of trustees and our corporate partners for their continued support.
Finally, my appreciation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and the Robertson Foundation for their commitment to the Foundation.
HON PHILIP BURDON