New Zealand and Japan: To our future

With many New Zealanders’ eyes on Japan for the Rugby World Cup, a new report commissioned by the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono explores whether enough has been done to sustain the relationship off the field.

The report New Zealand and Japan: To our future highlights how the Japan-New Zealand relationship has evolved and the potential to grow it in the future. It includes a short history of the relationship; facts and figures; and case studies about individuals, organisations and businesses who represent the many strands of the relationship.

“Japan is arguably the Asian country that New Zealanders have enjoyed the fullest relationship with,” Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper says.

“The statistics in this report show that Japan continues to be economically important to New Zealand, as our fourth largest trading partner and an important source of foreign investment, overseas students and tourists.

“But it’s much more than that. Japan has actually propelled New Zealand’s trade development and modernisation, and Japanese investment has lifted our game. 

“We enjoy strong people-to-people ties and a great affection for Japanese culture – from martial arts through to manga and anime.”

The report questions whether New Zealand has let its relationship with Japan drift in recent years amid trade differences, and in shifting attention to the booming China market.

However, it also suggests we may be at an inflection point in the relationship. Social, economic, geopolitical and environmental factors could lead to broader and deeper engagement.

“A more challenging international economic and security environment provides good reasons for two like-minded countries to work together,” writes author David Capie, director of the Centre for Strategic Studies and an Associate Professor in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington.

“Uncertainty across the Asia-Pacific region has given both countries an interest in strengthening ties with partners that share common interests in the rules-based order.”

Future areas for growing the relationship include:

  • Connections between Māori and Japan’s Ainu people, who were formally recognised as indigenous people by the Japanese government earlier this year.
  • Opportunities to collaborate in the Pacific, including on infrastructure, development and climate change projects.
  • Trade, business and investment through the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). This has improved New Zealand’s access to the Japanese market, providing a level playing field against competitors like Australia, Mexico and Chile.
  • Partnership on initiatives to tackle climate change, including low carbon ventures such as green hydrogen and geothermal projects.

The report is published the same week as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern heads to Tokyo for a Summit meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and as the All Blacks gear up for their first RWC match against South Africa in Yokohama.

“Over the next two years, Japan is hosting four major international sporting events – not only the Rugby World Cup but also the 2020 Summer Olympics and Paralympics and the 2021 Masters Games,” says Mr Draper. 

“Our Perceptions of Asia research consistently finds New Zealanders have high levels of warmth towards Japan. Japan’s increased profile over the next couple of years gives us an opportunity to further deepen and broaden New Zealanders’ understanding.

 “The Asia New Zealand Foundation’s mission is to equip New Zealanders to thrive in Asia, and we’ve been working on a range of initiatives focused on Japan while it’s in the spotlight. These include support for teachers, sports groups, artists, business graduates and the media to learn more about the country.  But we also want to show how New Zealanders can harness the opportunities and this report provides that.”

For further details, please contact:

Rebecca Inoue-Palmer

Director communications and media