In 2003, at the request of the then Prime Minister Helen Clark, the Asia New Zealand Foundation — at the time known as Asia 2000 — ran the Seriously Asia initiative. It was a project designed to inject new ideas and energy into New Zealand’s connections with Asia.
The initiative canvassed views from across the country and in Asia; helped to grow New Zealanders’ understanding of the region; and developed a set of recommendations to guide New Zealand’s engagement with Asia in the years that followed.
Since 2003, New Zealand has changed a lot, and Asia even more so. Seven out of New Zealand’s top 10 trading partners are now in Asia. Asian investment, international education and tourism flows have been vital to our economy. Māori have played a pivotal role in New Zealand’s overall engagement with Asia, and the region’s growth has provided increasing opportunities for the Māori economy.
Additionally, the number of New Zealanders identifying with Asian heritages has also grown significantly, from around seven percent of the population in 2001 to more than 15 percent at the time of the 2018 census.
This change has not only helped New Zealand’s connectivity with Asia but has also transformed the social, cultural and economic fabric of our towns and cities. Young New Zealanders are more connected to Asia than previous generations, through their family and peers, travel experiences, social media and pop culture.
The Asia region is considerably richer than it was in 2003, but also more complex, with increasing tension, climate disruption and fragmentation. In short, New Zealand is going to have to work harder, and success is going to demand different skills and resources from us.
In recognition of the far-reaching changes that had taken place in New Zealand and Asia over two decades, in 2022 the Asia New Zealand Foundation launched Seriously Asia Revisited. This project brought together a cross-section of informed voices to discuss how to best position New Zealand for success in Asia in the coming decades.
Seriously Asia Revisited was structured around the themes of the original Seriously Asia project. Those themes were:
You will see in this publication that some clear insights emerged from our conversations. Overall, New Zealand was judged to have done “ok” in Asia, in some respects more than others. The Asia New Zealand Foundation heard widespread concern that New Zealand would continue to lose ground and pace in Asia if it continued with its current approach and level of activity.
We heard particularly strong desire for a cohesive Asia strategy and a clearly articulated vision that would guide both public and private sector engagement in the region. Additionally, there was a strong sense that New Zealand’s collective “Asia capability” - for instance, knowledge and languages - was not keeping pace with demand. Hui participants also spoke of the value that New Zealand’s significant Asian diaspora bring to this work and the edge that Māori have in engaging with a range of Asian cultures.
As you will read in the pages that follow, plenty of other opportunities and challenges emerged in the discussions. But in short, what was clear was that a refreshed approach is needed if New Zealand is to maximise the opportunities and minimise the risks across the breadth of its relations with Asia.
We are grateful to all those who have contributed to this project: the authors of four background thematic papers; the 120-plus participants of hui held across Aotearoa New Zealand; and those who shared their views through our surveys. The collective expertise and perspectives of these contributors - both in New Zealand and Asia - will help set the roadmap for New Zealand to thrive in and with Asia in the future.
We hope you will find this publication insightful.
Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper