Perceptions of Asia 2020


Despite the impacts of Covid-19, New Zealanders increasingly believe it is important for their country to build ties with Asia, new research from the Asia New Zealand Foundation shows.

The latest report in the annual New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey finds that in 2020, 73 percent of New Zealanders believed that developing political, social, and economic ties with Asia was important for New Zealand’s future, up from 67 percent in 2019. 

How important do New Zealanders think it is to develop political, economic and social ties with Asia?

The research also finds that New Zealanders consider Asia-related competencies, including understanding of cultural protocols, to be important skills for New Zealand’s future workforce. 

The Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono has been tracking New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia since 1997. The Foundation commissioned Colmar Brunton to lead the research for this report, which saw just over 2000 New Zealanders surveyed in October and November.

“As we know, Covid-19 has presented major challenges to New Zealand’s international engagement over the past 18 months. It’s created a level of disruption most of us had not experienced previously,” says Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper.

“But this research tells us that New Zealanders think Asia really counts, and it shows they have an appetite for learning more.” 

In 2020, for the first time, more New Zealanders saw China as posing a threat (35 percent) than those who considered it to be friendly towards New Zealand (31 percent). 

“But it’s interesting to see that New Zealanders also named China, alongside countries such as Australia, the US, India and Japan, as a key relationship that New Zealand should put extra effort into building.  They recognised the need to keep engaging,” Mr Draper says.

An infographic showing peoples' self-reported knowledge of Asia

The report also finds New Zealanders connect with Asia through a range of interests, including food and travel, but also increasingly through areas such as music, art, literature, languages, politics, history and current affairs. 

“We know that personal experiences and people-to-people connections are really valuable ways for New Zealanders to learn more about Asia,” Mr Draper says. “Digital connections and New Zealand’s Asian diaspora communities have helped fill some of the gaps while we haven’t been able to travel. For instance, we’ve seen some rich contributions from Asian New Zealanders to the arts sector in the past year. 

“However, we know that amid border restrictions, New Zealanders will have to work harder to maintain ties to Asia.”
New Zealanders were positive about the future impacts of engagement with Asia across a range of measures over the next 10 to 20 years. For instance, 79 percent of those surveyed felt tourism from Asia would have a positive impact, and 69 percent felt positive about the impact of economic growth in Asia on New Zealand.

However, the report also highlights some concerns New Zealanders have; for instance, about the potential for environmental, political and security issues in Asia to negatively impact New Zealand in the future.

Included in this year’s report are the results of interviews with New Zealanders from a range of diverse backgrounds, highlighting how they engage with and learn about Asia in their daily lives. 

Māori participants in these interviews highlighted the importance of cultural commonalities between Te Ao Māori and Asia and of their aspirations in relation to Asia. Many of the themes echo the findings of the Foundation’s 2019 research, Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples from a Te Ao Māori Perspective.

Other findings 

Knowledge of Asia

  • Half of New Zealanders (50 percent) believe themselves to have “at least a fair amount” of knowledge about Asia. The results showed a significant gap between self-assessed knowledge of North Asia (43 percent), Southeast Asia (33 percent), and South Asia (25 percent), though knowledge of Southeast Asia and South Asia had grown slightly since 2019.
  • North Asia was also rated the most important sub-region in Asia (71 percent said it was important or very important to New Zealand’s future) followed by Southeast Asia (42 percent) and South Asia (37 percent).
  • China plays a big part in New Zealanders’ views of Asia. Asked to give the first word they thought of when they heard or saw the word “Asia”, the single most common response (33 percent) was “China”.
  • One in five respondents could speak an Asian language; one quarter of New Zealanders said they would like to learn an Asian language if it were available and free.

Perceptions of the region

  • New Zealanders feel closer to many Asian nations than previously, with more people seeing South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, India, Viet Nam, and Indonesia as friendly compared to previous years. Japan continues to be rated the country in Asia most friendly to New Zealand.
  • The results show a decline in positive sentiment about both China and the United States. Thirty-one percent of respondents saw China as friendly, down from 40 percent in 2019; while 35 percent saw it as a threat, up from 21 percent the previous year. Fifty percent rated the US as friendly, down from 57 percent in 2019; while 20 percent of New Zealanders considered the US threatening, up from 12 percent the previous year.
  • Australia continues to be seen as the friendliest country towards New Zealand, while North Korea is seen as the biggest threat.
  • Thirty-nine percent of New Zealanders had heard of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade agreement, compared to 43 percent in 2019. Of those who were aware of the agreement, 60 percent were supportive of it.
  • New Zealanders’ awareness of the Belt and Road Initiative – China's global development strategy – reached its highest level to date, with 45 percent saying they had at least some knowledge.

 News media and entertainment consumption

  • Fifty-nine percent of New Zealanders watch, play, or listen to Asia-related entertainment on an annual basis, with a third (29 percent) doing so at least monthly. New Zealanders of Asian ethnicity were more likely to consume Asia-related entertainment, with 31 percent stating they were weekly consumers.
  • Interest in music, art and literature from Asia increased, with 57 percent of respondents being “at least somewhat interested” compared to 48 percent in 2019.
  • In 2020, fewer New Zealanders (41 percent) were able to recall Asia-related news or events in the previous three months, compared to 2019 (49 percent).
  • Most (54 percent) respondents felt New Zealand media coverage of Asia was fair and balanced.
  • Most New Zealanders (68 percent) said they relied on traditional media for their Asia-related news, but the survey found growing use of digital platforms and social media.

Travel experiences 

  • Just over half (52 percent) of New Zealanders said they had travelled to Asia, and 15 percent had lived in Asia for six months or more at some point in their lives.
  • Singapore was the location New Zealanders had visited the most, followed by Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia and China.
  • New Zealanders who had travelled to or lived in Asia felt more knowledgeable about the region. Sixty-eight percent of New Zealanders who had travelled to or lived in Asia rated themselves as having a ‘high level’ of knowledge about Asia, compared to 30 percent of New Zealanders who had not visited Asia before.
  • Most New Zealanders (81 percent) felt that COVID-19 would impact New Zealand for more than two years.
  • Asked whether COVID-19 had negatively impacted their perceptions of Asia, 41 percent said it hadn’t, 30 percent felt neutral and 25 percent agreed it had. 

About the New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples 2020 report

This report contains two major elements: 

  • A major quantitative New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey of 2001 New Zealanders aged 15 years and over, conducted in October and November 2020 by Colmar Brunton. The results have been weighted so that they are representative of New Zealanders by age, gender and ethnicity. The survey has a maximum margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.
  • A qualitative section derived from interviews with 16 New Zealanders, conducted by Colmar Brunton. This included interviews with six Māori participants, conducted by a Māori researcher using a Kaupapa Māori approach.

For more information contact:
Rebecca Inoue-Palmer
Director Communications and Media
[email protected]
027 226 8707