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Awareness Of Asia’s importance to New Zealand grows, despite challenges

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 per cent of New Zealanders believed that developing political, social, and economic ties with Asia was important for New Zealand’s future, up from 67 per cent in 2019.

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 Whƒ´tau T≈´hono 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 per cent) than those who considered it to be friendly towards New Zealand (31 per cent).

“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,” Simon says.

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,” Simon 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 per cent of those surveyed felt tourism from Asia would have a positive impact, and 69 per cent 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.

MƒÅori participants in these interviews highlighted the importance of cultural commonalities between Te Ao MƒÅori 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 MƒÅori Perspective.

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