Twenty-five years of New Zealanders’ views of Asia

After 25 years of polling, the New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey shows that New Zealanders feel more strongly part of Asia through their friends, their community and their interests. They also have more understanding of how developments in Asia impact New Zealand.

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.

Watch a slideshow of infographics depicting some of the key findings from the report (The slideshow and individual graphics can be provided to media on request)

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.” 



Key findings

Knowledge of Asia  

An infographic showing the words New Zealanders associate with Asia. China comes out at number one.

China continues to be the word most New Zealanders associate with Asia

  • Half of New Zealanders (51 percent) believe themselves to have a “fair amount” of knowledge about Asia. In 2017, 43 percent rated themselves as knowledgeable, and in 2014 the score was 36 percent. The results continued to show a gap between self-assessed knowledge of North Asia (44 percent), Southeast Asia (33 percent), and South Asia (25 percent).
  • Asked to give the first word respondents thought of when they heard or saw the word “Asia”, for the third year running the single most common response was “China”, followed by “food” and references to population.
  • New Zealanders saw Chinese languages as the most useful for young New Zealanders to learn, outside of New Zealand’s official languages Te Reo Māori, English and New Zealand Sign Language.
  • Confidence in engaging with people from Asian cultures, and understanding cultural norms and etiquette are seen to be the two most important Asia-related skills for New Zealand’s future workforce. Understanding Asian languages and the social context of Asian countries are also seen as important.

Friend and threat perceptions

An infographic showing how friendly New Zealanders feel countries are towards New Zealand

Of Asian countries, New Zealanders feel Japan is the most friendly to this country and South Korea is the least

  • New Zealanders continue to see Japan as the friendliest nation in Asia, with 68 percent rating it as a “friend”, followed by Singapore (65 percent) and South Korea (49 percent) in 2021. These results were virtually unchanged when a mini-poll was conducted in June 2022.
  • In 2021, 29 percent of New Zealanders perceived China to be friendly (down two percentage points from 2020) and 37 percent saw it as threatening (up one percentage point). In the June 2022 mini-poll, 13 percent saw China as friendly and 58 percent perceived China as a threat.
  • Russia and North Korea are seen to be the most threatening countries to New Zealand. In 2021, 11 percent of New Zealanders saw Russia as a friend, and 45 percent saw Russia as a threat. In June 2022, only 3 percent saw Russia as a friend and 79 percent saw Russia as a threat. Perceptions of North Korea as a threat increased from 64 percent in November 2021 to 75 percent in June 2022.
  • Australia continues to be seen as New Zealand’s closest friend, with 84 percent seeing it as friendly in 2021, followed by the United Kingdom and Canada. This was virtually unchanged in June 2022.
  • Australia, China, the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Japan and Canada were named as the priority relationships for New Zealand to invest in. Reasons ranged from technology and innovation cooperation (China, India); defence and security (Australia and the United States); and tourism flows (Japan, Canada).  

Security and political developments in Asia

Asked about possible international threats to New Zealand’s vital interests, ‘non-traditional’ security threats were seen to be the most concerning. Misinformation, cyberattacks, pandemics and climate change were seen to be the most concerning threats in November 2021. (Note: these concerns were not specific to Asia.) The June 2022 mini-poll recorded an increase in concerns about economic downturn, and concerns about a possible humanitarian and/or security situation in the Pacific.

Asked which countries in Asia were important defence and security partners for New Zealand, New Zealanders rated Japan the highest (53 percent), followed by Singapore (41 percent), South Korea (34 percent), China (31 percent) and India (26 percent).

 Views of how Asia will impact New Zealand

An infographic showing how New Zealanders think relationships in Asia shpould be grown. Business ties and government connections were listed as the most important actions

Business and government connections were seen as the most important ways for New Zealand to grow its relationships with Asia

  • Seventy-seven percent of New Zealanders view tourism from Asia as having a positive impact on New Zealand’s future; and the same proportion believe technological developments and innovation will have a positive impact.
  • Most New Zealanders (54 percent) feel New Zealand will benefit culturally from Asia in the coming decades.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) said immigration from Asia would have a positive impact, while 21 percent perceived a negative future impact – the lowest number since the survey question was first asked in 2007.
  • Environmental issues in Asia and political and security stability were the biggest concerns in relation to future impacts on New Zealand.

News media and entertainment consumption  

An infographic showing the Asia related interests of New Zealanders. Food comes out at number one.

Food continues to be the link to Asia that most New Zealanders note when reporting their interests

  • Food and travel remain the most popular Asia-related interests, but interest in music, art and literature continues to grow.
  • Fewer New Zealanders recalled consuming Asia-related news in 2021. Traditional media continued to be the most common source of Asia-related news, but popular culture has grown as a source of information.
  • Two-thirds of New Zealanders (65 percent) said they had consumed some form of Asia-related entertainment in 2021, up from 59 percent the previous year. South Korean show Squid Game was named the most consumed piece of Asia-related entertainment.
  • Sixty-two percent of New Zealanders felt Asia-related entertainment was important for growing interest in Asia.

Travel and connectivity

  • Three-quarters of New Zealanders said they were interested in travelling overseas once it was possible and practical to do so.
  • Asia was a priority travel destination for New Zealanders, second only to Australia. Visiting friends and family and tourism were named as the primary motivations for visiting. Among New Zealanders under the age of 30, Asia was the highest priority travel destination.
  • We asked New Zealanders how connected they felt in their day-to-day lives with Asian cultures, places or people over the past five years. Fewer New Zealanders (21 percent) felt a strong connection to Asia compared to 2020 (26 percent). More New Zealanders said they felt a weak connection (31 percent) to Asia than in 2020 (26 percent). 

About the 2021 report

This report draws on the following: 

  • A major quantitative survey of 2334 New Zealanders aged 15 and over carried out by Kantar Public in November 2021. The survey was nationally representative by age, gender, ethnicity and region. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 2.1 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.
  • A ‘mini-poll’ of 1186 New Zealanders conducted by Kantar Public in June 2022. This repeated three questions from the major quantitative survey. The mini-poll was taken between 13-15 June 2022 and was nationally representative by age, gender, region, and ethnicity. The margin of error for the mini-poll is +/- 2.9 percentage points at a 95% confidence level.
  • Four qualitative focus groups held by Kantar in February and March 2022.
  • An online survey with 563 young New Zealanders aged 16 to 19, carried out in January 2022 by Research New Zealand.

To hear our Director Research and Engagement discuss this further, you can listen to this episode of Asia Insight from the Asia Media Centre. 

About the Asia New Zealand Foundation

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:

027 226 8707