Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono executive director Simon Draper says that when the first survey was conducted in 1997, Asia was seen as something largely external for most New Zealanders.
“Today, the results show a greater sense of being connected with Asia. We have shared interests and a more nuanced understanding of how developments in Asia impact New Zealand.”
The Asia New Zealand Foundation undertook polling for its annual survey in November 2021; this data was supplemented in June 2022.
In 2021, 79 percent of New Zealanders believed it was important for New Zealand to develop political, social and economic ties with Asia, up from 73 percent in 2020. This is the highest level ever.
“It appears that having been cut off from Asia due to Covid, more New Zealanders now understand the importance of being connected to Asia,” Mr Draper says.
While the results show increased knowledge about Asia, as in previous years, when New Zealanders think of Asia, they predominately think of China. China remains a key country for New Zealand to engage with, second only to Australia.
The Foundation also decided to run several of the survey questions again in June 2022, due to events in Europe and coverage of China’s role in the Pacific.
“Given the media coverage, which strongly influences New Zealanders’ views, a record low 13 percent of New Zealanders saw China as a friend, and 58 percent saw it as a threat,” Mr Draper noted. “A key question will be whether this is a long-lasting view of China.”
The survey shows New Zealanders overwhelmingly see it as important for New Zealand’s future workforce to be equipped with Asia-related skills and capabilities, such as understanding of cultural norms and etiquette, and language skills. Asia was also the number one desired travel destination for young New Zealanders.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the survey, the report includes a special focus on the views of young New Zealanders aged 16 to 19. The results show they are interested in engaging internationally on a range of issues, including climate change and growing the economy.
Fifty-eight percent said they were interested to work or study in Asia, reflecting a growing sense of connectedness with the region. However, respondents were also concerned that the pandemic would make it much harder and more expensive to travel to the region.
Just over half of respondents (51 percent) viewed Asia as an important region to learn about in schools, but only 24 percent felt it had been taught about to a reasonable extent. About two-thirds (67 percent) were interested in learning an Asian language.
Mr Draper says: “The key with these surveys are the trends. The takeaway for us this year is a move from talking about us (New Zealand) and them (Asia), to a better sense of New Zealand being a part of the region. That is good news, but it is clear there is still a way to go for New Zealand to realise the opportunities that Asia presents New Zealand. The survey tells us we want to know more.”