Reflections on the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s annual Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey and what it tells us about New Zealanders’ views on those nations it sees as friends and threats. 

Jordan Small
Executive Director

Each year I look forward to the Asia Foundation’s release of their annual survey of New Zealanders’ perceptions of our Asian neighbours, understandings of the region, where New Zealanders source their information, and a range of other areas. 

It highlights some of the gaps in New Zealanders knowledge of Asia and also the surface level understanding of some of our key relationships. Helpfully, it also provides guidance on where we need to put some effort in respect of New Zealand’s relationship with the US. 

I tend to focus in on two of the regular survey questions – who do New Zealanders view as our friends, and who do New Zealanders view as threats. 

These two questions throw up some interesting trends and sometimes just some strange results – why do 11% of New Zealanders see Myanmar as a threat?

On the friends question: 

  • You see a lot of stability in those countries that are viewed as friendly towards New Zealand – so not a lot of change over the last three years with Australia, Canada, UK and Japan.  
  • In respect of China there is a steep decline in the number of New Zealanders who view China as friendly towards New Zealand. 


On the threats question: 

  • I always find the results of this question strange. For example, Pakistan and Myanmar are this year first time entrants into New Zealand’s list of top nations considered as posing a threat to New Zealand. North Korea and Russia – I understand given the level of media attention both nations get. 
  • The USA and China – at reasonably steady numbers over the last few years although both have registered similar declines in threat levels in the 2019 survey versus 2018. 

It’s a fun survey which is of possibly greater value in uncovering New Zealanders’ understandings of Asia. As the report itself notes New Zealanders have a limited understanding of international affairs and trade. The friends and threats questions and results in my view reflect this. 

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