Andrew Butcher is Director of Policy & Research at the Asia New Zealand Foundation.
The latest Asia New Zealand Foundation poll of New Zealanders' attitudes to Asia and Asian peoples reveals some interesting divergences with Australia. Mirroring questions asked by the Lowy Institute, Asia:NZ asks New Zealanders to rate their feelings of warmth toward people from Asian countries. The table below is telling:
The divergences become starker still in relation to China. Fewer New Zealanders agreed that China's growth had been good for the country (68%, compared to 73% of Australians). But while 33% of New Zealanders said that the country would be harmed if China gained more influence in the world, Australians took the opposite view, with just 35% saying that Australia's would not be harmed if China gained more power and influence. Not surprisingly, then, only one in three (29%) New Zealanders thought China would be a military threat, compared to 46% of Australians.
And, relevant to Australia's internal discussion about its Asian connections, while 83% of New Zealanders saw the Asia region as important to New Zealand's future, only 22% thought New Zealand was part of Asia.
It might be because New Zealanders feel (and are) further away from Asia geographically that they feel warmer toward Asian countries. But it might also be because of the large and growing Asian populations in New Zealand. At the latest census, 9% of New Zealanders were of Asian ethnicity. In the 2011 Asia:NZ poll, the proportion of New Zealanders who said they felt warmer toward Asian people increased from 12% in 2010 to 21%. Some of that increase the survey attributes to the triumph of the hosting of Rugby World Cup as well as to the shared tragedies of the Christchurch and Japan earthquakes.
As media consultant and Asia:NZ trustee Trish Carter noted in an accompanying panel interview to the survey, these events are the 'ties that bind' and New Zealanders had moved from antipathy toward Asia in 2010 (as a result of the recession and media portrayals of the Delhi Commonwealth Games) to empathy in 2011.
But the wide gaps in warmth between Australians' and New Zealanders' views of Asia and Asian peoples are probably attributable to more than events alone. Australia and New Zealand are taking different approaches to their place in Asia and Asia's place in their country. The gap is not just in perceptions, nor in geography, but in their different visions of a future with Asia.