New Zealanders see ties with Asia as increasingly important, survey shows

New Zealand’s recovery from COVID-19 will be closely tied to Asia’s, and new research from the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono shows that more New Zealanders recognise Asia's importance to this country.
An infographic showing that prior to COVID-19 67 percent of New Zealanders thought developing ties with Asia was important with this number increasing to 79 percent in March once the pandemic was making headlines

Following the onset of COVID-19, the number of people who believed it was important for New Zealand to develop ties with Asia rose from 67 percent to 79 percent

The latest report in the annual New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples tracking survey finds New Zealanders are connected to Asia in a growing number of ways – through personal links, travel experiences and interests. The Foundation has been tracking New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia since 1997 and commissioned Colmar Brunton to lead the research for this report.

Rather than shy away from Asia, the report shows recognition of Asia’s importance to New Zealand grew after COVID-19 started hitting the headlines. The main survey was carried out in November 2019 and at that time, two-thirds (67 percent) of New Zealanders said that it was important for New Zealand to develop political, economic and social ties with Asia.

By March 2020, when the Foundation carried out a second poll, that figure had grown to 79 percent. New Zealanders view Asia as the second-most important region to New Zealand, behind only Australia.

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper says it is more critical than ever for New Zealanders to grow their knowledge and understanding of Asia. “New Zealand’s recovery is tied to Asia’s recovery in many respects: economic, social, geographic and through our people.

“Border and travel restrictions mean we will need to work harder to stay connected, which our strong people-to-people links will help with.”

The survey shows that for the first time more than half (51 percent) of New Zealanders felt they had at least a fair amount of knowledge about Asia. “We’re still really encouraged to see that confidence and knowledge of Asia is growing, but it still lags behind our self-assessed knowledge of the United Kingdom, North America, the South Pacific, and Europe,” Mr Draper says.

Nearly half of those surveyed had travelled or lived in Asia, and one in six could hold a conversation in an Asian language. The survey also shows New Zealanders have a wide range of Asia-related interests – including food, languages, arts, religions, history, gaming, sports and business.

“Once again, the results show that the more personal experience and connections New Zealanders have of Asia, the more knowledge they tend to have, and the more likely they are to see Asia as important,” Mr Draper says.

A map showing the regions of Asia and how important New Zealanders feel they are to New Zealand's future

The survey shows New Zealanders feel they know North Asia better than other regions

While overall knowledge is growing, there is still plenty of work to be done in understanding the different regions of Asia. The results show a significant gap between self-assessed knowledge of North Asia (42 percent), Southeast Asia (30 percent), and South Asia (22 percent). Similarly, twice as many people saw North Asia as ‘important or very important’ to New Zealand’s future (74 percent) compared to South Asia (36 percent).

Asked what word first came to mind when they saw or heard the word “Asia”, in November  27 percent said “China” – the highest proportion. Other words frequently mentioned included food, population, Japan and culture. “And while you might have expected this to be overtaken by coronavirus-related words in our March 2020 poll, only a small number of people referred to the virus and the overall results were very similar,” Mr Draper says.

The survey also found that New Zealanders continue to see most countries as friendly, with Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom seen to be the most friendly. Japan was rated the country in Asia most friendly to New Zealand.

North Korea was the only country seen to present a significant threat to New Zealand, with 59 percent of respondents viewing it as either a threat or a major threat. Others rated as posing some kind of threat – but significantly behind North Korea – were Russia, China and Pakistan.

The survey also asked about regional developments that impact New Zealand, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, and the impact of major sporting events such as the Rugby World Cup in Japan.

The Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples 2019 report also incorporates a mini-poll carried out in June 2019 following the attack on Christchurch mosques to examine how the devastating events of 15 March 2019 impacted New Zealanders and their perceptions of Asia – noting that more than half of the world’s Muslim population lives in Asia.

Other findings

  • In the November 2019 survey, New Zealanders expected the biggest benefits from our ties with Asia over the next 10-20 years would come from tourism, technological developments and innovation. Economic growth in Asia and investment from Asia in New Zealand were also seen to have a positive impact. These results did not change significantly when the poll was repeated in March 2020.
  • In terms of perceived negative impacts, environmental concerns topped the list. Two out of five (40 percent) of respondents believed environmental issues in Asia would have a negative impact on New Zealand over the next 10-20 years.
  • Respondents felt that we should develop our relationships with China, Australia, the United States and India for country-specific reasons. For instance, they said extra effort could be put into building New Zealand’s relationship with China (for trade) and Australia (given the close relationship and shared values).

Asia regional developments

  • One in four (25 percent) New Zealanders had some basic knowledge of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, but sentiment towards the initiative was more polarised than the previous year.
  • Forty-three percent of New Zealanders had heard of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement.
  • Forty-five percent of New Zealanders had heard the term “Indo-Pacific”, but few knew what it meant.

Current events and news media consumption

  • In 2019, New Zealanders were able to recall fewer Asia-related news or events (49 percent) compared to five years ago (61 percent). They recalled the news as being a mix of positive and negative. Recall of Asia-related news grew to 74 percent as a result of COVID-19.
  • Most New Zealanders (77 percent) said they relied on traditional media (TV, newspapers and radio) for their Asia-related news. Younger New Zealanders used social media significantly more (62 percent, compared to 35 percent for all New Zealanders). 

Asia-related interests

  • Nearly half (47 percent) of all respondents had travelled or lived in Asia. The most commonly visited destinations were Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and China.
  • More than half of New Zealanders (54 percent) believed that confidence in engaging with people from Asian cultures was an important skill for our future workforce.
  • Sports and arts events were recognised as helpful ways to connect with otherwise unfamiliar Asian countries and cultures.
  • One quarter (24 percent) of New Zealanders attended at least one Asian arts or cultural event in the 12 months preceding the survey. New Zealanders of Asian and Pacific ethnicities and younger New Zealanders were more likely to have attended.

Mini-poll following the Christchurch terror attack

  • In June 2019, just over half (52 percent) of respondents believed that New Zealanders were accepting of cultural and religious diversity. Sixteen percent felt that New Zealanders were not, and 28 percent gave a neutral response.
  • Like the main Perceptions of Asia survey, most respondents (69 percent) considered it important for New Zealand to develop cultural and economic ties with the peoples and countries of Asia.
  • One-third of respondents agreed that New Zealand was doing enough to understand the religions, cultures and traditions of Asia (35 percent). By contrast, 28 percent disagreed, and 35 percent gave a neutral response.

About the New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples 2019 report

The findings of this report draw on four elements:

  • A major quantitative New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey of 2002 New Zealanders aged 15 years and over, conducted in November 2019 by Colmar Brunton. The results have been weighted so that they are representative of New Zealanders by age, gender, ethnicity and location.
  • Quotes and insights taken from four qualitative focus groups to provide more depth of understanding about perceptions of major Asian countries.
  • A survey of 1005 New Zealanders taken by Colmar Brunton in March 2020 exploring New Zealand’s perception of Asia following the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • A separate survey of 1000 New Zealanders undertaken by Research NZ in June 2019 looking at the impact of the Christchurch terror attack on New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia.

Read the full report

 About the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono

Established in 1994, the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono is New Zealand’s leading authority on Asia. We provide experiences and resources to help New Zealanders build their knowledge, skills and confidence to thrive in Asia. We work in partnership with influential individuals and organisations in New Zealand and Asia.

For more information:

Rebecca Inoue-Palmer
Director Communications and Media
027 226 8707