Research published today by the Asia New Zealand Foundation — the ‘New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples
2017 Annual Survey’ available here
suggests New Zealanders’ knowledge about Asia is low.
The research, which is a longitudinal survey the Foundation has done for the past 20 years, shows New Zealanders have
relatively low levels of self-assessed knowledge about Asia, less than what they claim to know about Australia, Europe,
North America and the South Pacific. Six out of 10 continue to say they know little about Asia.
“We thought this was just a confidence thing — that New Zealanders just weren’t backing themselves in what they know
about Asia so this year we ran a general-knowledge quiz about Asia, and they weren’t complicated questions, for example
— Does the Mekong river flow through India?” says Simon Draper, Executive Director of the Foundation.
“The average mark was two correct answers out of six — that’s a fail. What it is telling us then is that New Zealanders
really don’t know much about Asia,” says Mr Draper. The survey reveals young New Zealanders have particularly low
knowledge of Asia compared to the general population. Fifty-two percent of people aged under 30 got only one or no
correct answer, compared to 35 percent of people aged over 30.
Surprisingly, other research the Foundation released last year shows six out of 10 school leavers think having
Asia-related knowledge will be unimportant for New Zealand’s future workforce, which seems counterintuitive according to
Mr Draper given that seven out of our top 10 trading partners are in Asia.
Despite low knowledge about the region, New Zealanders’ perception of Asia is generally positive viewing the region as
the second most important for New Zealand’s future after Australia, though New Zealanders continue to see Asia primarily
through an economic lens. More than eight in 10 were positive about the impacts of Asian tourism, more than seven in 10
were positive about the economic growth of the Asia region, and more than six in 10 were positive about investment from
“It’s good to get these positive signals, but we should be wary of thinking of Asia solely in economic terms. I’m
concerned that less than half of us think that it is important for our future workforce to have an understanding of
Asian society, languages and history,” says Mr Draper. Mr Draper says it is noteworthy that around half of the
respondents felt not enough is being done to equip New Zealanders to engage with Asia.
“This research tells us that experiences are really important – be it a trip to Asia or rubbing shoulders with Asian
colleagues. The Foundation, through its various programmes, will continue providing those experiences to grow New
Zealanders’ awareness and knowledge of Asia.” The Foundation has been mapping a pathway that would better equip young
New Zealanders with Asia-related knowledge and experiences as they pass through the education system and on to early
“We’re calling it #ThinkAsia — a programme we’ll be ramping up in the next couple of months that will help young New
Zealanders understand that if they are interested in Asia, want to experience Asia, and keen to equip themselves with
Asia-related skills, there is pathway that they can tap into,” says Mr Draper. The Foundation is looking forward to
highlighting #ThinkAsia and working with others to make sure there is coherency in efforts to grow the knowledge and
confidence of young New Zealanders about Asia.