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Increased contact with Asian people generates positive feelings

Increased contact with Asian people generates positive feelings, Asia New Zealand Foundation report finds

Positive feelings about Asia amongst New Zealanders grew between 1997 and 2011, as immigration led to increased contact with Asian people.

An Asia New Zealand Foundation report has found that the more contact non-Asian New Zealanders have with Asian people, the more positive they feel about them.

The report – New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia and Asian peoples 1997-2011 uses the Foundation’s “Perceptions of Asia” tracking surveys and other research to analyse changes in public opinion towards Asia over time.

In 1997, only 32 percent of New Zealanders considered the impact of Asian immigration to be positive, despite the economic benefits of trade between Asia and New Zealand and Asian tourism in New Zealand. 

“In other words, most New Zealanders were happy to do business with Asia or to have Asians here as tourists, but were not happy with the idea of Asians immigrating to New Zealand,” the report says.

By 2011, 55 percent of those surveyed viewed Asian immigration to New Zealand as positive. Most New Zealanders agreed Asian people contributed significantly to the economy (83 percent) and brought valuable cultural diversity to New Zealand (79 percent). However, some still believed that Asians did not mix well with New Zealanders (46 percent) and could do more to learn about New Zealand culture (70 percent).

“The main reason for New Zealanders’ changes in perceptions in the 15 years was more contact with Asians – there were more of them around – and this helped to reduce some of the prejudice that had previously coloured many New Zealanders’ attitudes.”

Professor Paul Spoonley, one of the authors of the report, said: “It is comforting that attitudes have become so much more positive about Asia and Asians, especially Asians in New Zealand, since 1997. The attitudes expressed during the 1996 general election towards Asians was disappointing and a low point, but New Zealanders, by and large, have come to a different realisation, especially after 2000.”

He underlined this by pointing to polling which shows that New Zealanders are more positive about Asian immigration than most countries, including Australia.

But he also noted: “The concerns of Maori about Asian immigration are a contra-trend that needs more recognition.”

The report examines socio-economic and demographic factors that influence attitudes towards Asian immigration. It finds Māori are less likely to support Asian immigration, as are people who were born in New Zealand (compared to those born overseas). Concerns expressed by Māori respondents in the tracking surveys included potential competition for employment, worries that Asian languages could compete for attention and resourcing with tikanga and te reo Māori, and a perception that Asian immigrants might not adequately acknowledge the Treaty of Waitangi.

The report also finds that perceptions of Asia as a whole are largely influenced by perceptions of China and, to a lesser extent, Japan. The major change since 1997 is the significance of China as a trading partner; global power; and the source of an increasing number of New Zealand residents and visitors to New Zealand. The authors suggest that what happens in China over the next 15 years “is likely to be the major determinant of New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia in the same period”.

The New Zealanders’ perceptions of Asia and Asian peoples 1997-2011 report was written by Emeritus Professor Phil Gendall, Distinguished Professor Paul Spoonley and Asia New Zealand Foundation director of research Dr Andrew Butcher.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to building New Zealand’s links with Asia through a range of programmes, including business, culture, education, media, research and a Young Leaders Network.

The report online:  http://asianz.org.nz/our-work/research/research-reports/social-research/nzers-perception-asia1997-2011


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