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Asia New Zealand Foundation 2019 Survey: New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples 2019

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Asia New Zealand Foundation have been tracking New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples since 1997. This research is a useful reference for government agencies and supports an informed public conversation about New Zealanders’ engagement with the countries and peoples of Asia. It tracks how perceptions have changed as our links to the region have deepened, and as New Zealand’s demography has changed.

The full survey tracking New Zealander’s perceptions can be found at the link here.

Asia NZ Foundation believes it more critical than ever for New Zealanders to grow their knowledge and understanding of Asia, because strong partnerships in the region will play an important role in New Zealand’s economic and social recovery from COVID-19. “We are pleased that the findings of this report suggest a strong basis for engagement, with a high level of connectivity to Asia and growing recognition of the region’s importance.”

The main fieldwork for this report was carried out in November 2019, before COVID-19. However, in late March 2020 they commissioned an additional poll to examine the impact of the pandemic on our perceptions. Rather than contract, the results show that New Zealander’s awareness of Asia’s importance had significantly grown.

Summary of the survey findings

• 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.

• For the first time, more than half of respondents (51 percent) felt they had at least a fair amount of knowledge about Asia. This was still less than New Zealanders’ self-assessed knowledge of Australia, the United Kingdom, North America, the Pacific and Europe.

• Nearly half of those surveyed had travelled or lived in Asia and nearly one in six spoke an Asian language fluently. The survey also shows a wide range of Asia-related interests – including food, languages, arts, religions, history, gaming, sports and business. 

• 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 see North Asia as important to New Zealand’s future (74 percent) as South Asia (36 percent).  

• Asked what word first came to mind when they saw or heard the word “Asia”, 27 percent said “China” – the highest proportion. Other words frequently mentioned included food, population, Japan and culture. These results varied little between November 2019 and March 2020.

• The survey also asked about regional developments that impact New Zealand, to track awareness of these over time. 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.

• The proportion of New Zealanders who were aware of New Zealand’s scheduled hosting of APEC in 2021 grew to 48 percent (a 20-point increase from 2018). Sixty-two percent supported New Zealand’s hosting of APEC, the main reason given that it raises New Zealand’s profile in the Asia-Pacific. Of the four percent who opposed New Zealand hosting APEC, the most common reason given was the cost to the taxpayer.

• The Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples 2019 report also incorporates a mini-poll carried out in June 2019 following the terror 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. 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.