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NZ needs wake-up call on Asia - report

EMBARGOED UNTIL JULY 4, 2006

NZ needs wake-up call on Asia - report

New Zealand needs to change its approach to Asia or risk being left behind as countries such as China and India come to dominate world affairs, according to a report from the Asia Knowledge Working Group.

The report, Preparing for a Future with Asia, says Asia will soon be the world’s most important region, both economically and strategically.

“Within 20 years, China will be the world’s number one economy in terms of purchasing power, with India and Japan not far behind,” says Sekhar Bandyopadhyay, Asia Knowledge Working Group Chair and Associate Professor of History at Victoria University.

“Asia will come to influence our way of life just as the United States does now.

“Our future prosperity, and our ability to influence world events, depends on how well we deal with the region. New Zealand can either ride the Asian wave or be left behind. At the moment, we’re being left behind. Other countries are doing far better.”

The report says if New Zealand adapts to Asia’s growing importance, businesses will gain access to skills, research and knowledge from some of the world’s most advanced economies, as well as new market opportunities.

Individuals will gain access to new career and study possibilities. And New Zealand will become more prosperous and have more opportunities to influence international decisions on issues such as trade, security and the environment.

If New Zealand fails to adapt, the report warns that it will be increasingly marginalised.

“We will be overtaken in the economic stakes by other countries that have more successfully diversified and engaged with Asian markets. If this happens, New Zealanders with skills in international demand will be tempted to leave. Businesses will be shut out of key markets… Overall,
failure to engage more effectively with Asia will mean lower standards of living, fewer opportunities and a less secure future.”

The report says a key problem is simply that New Zealanders don’t understand Asia and aren’t aware of the opportunities it offers.

“Most of us don’t speak any Asian languages,” says Prof Bandyopadhyay. “We don’t study Asia enough in our schools and universities. Most businesses lack the knowledge and skills to develop Asian markets. We treat Asia as one big place when in fact it’s more than 20 countries, each with different languages and cultures and economic priorities.”

Another key problem identified in the report is the way we treat Asian people living in New Zealand.

“Not enough employers recognise the skills qualifications and connections that people of Asian descent can bring to their businesses,” says Prof Bandyopadhyay.

He says that Asian people in New Zealand also face discrimination and stereotyping and that “As a nation, we can’t afford for that to go on.”
A third key issue identified in the report is a lack of commitment to the region.

“We pay lip service to Asia. We all say it’s important to our future, but our actions don’t match the words. Whenever the squeeze goes on in any New Zealand organisation, it seems to be the Asian offices and the Asian programmes that are the first to go.”

Media, singled out in the report as the main source of knowledge about events and trends in Asia, as well as about our own Asian communities, could do a better job, says Prof Bandyopadhyay.

“Mainstream media regards Asia as less important than Australia, Europe and the U.S. – so we don’t get the level of detail and balance about Asian stories that we need here. Media also aren’t close enough to Asian communities in New Zealand, and this has meant unbalanced reporting about those communities.”

The report sets out three strategic priorities aimed at ensuring New Zealand can take advantage of the opportunities Asia offers.

“The first part of the strategy is to raise knowledge, through changes such as improving education about Asia.

“The second is to commit to Asian people in New Zealand, to end discrimination and recognise and use the skills and connections they bring.

“The third part is to connect with the region, by taking advantage of the networks we already have, such as Asian people living in New Zealand, Sister Cities relationships and New Zealand expatriates living in Asia, as well as government, business and higher education links.

He says action is needed at every level, from the policymakers to businesses and schools to individual New Zealanders.

“And that action is needed now. Other countries are passing us by. This report is New Zealand’s wake-up call on Asia.”

To support action on the report’s recommendations, the Asia New Zealand Foundation will be convening a national Summit of key stakeholders later this year.


About the Asia Knowledge Working Group

The Asia Knowledge Working was set up following the 2003 Seriously Asia conference to address the need for increased knowledge and understanding of Asia at all levels in New Zealand society.

The working group is made up of 19 influential New Zealanders. It is convened by the Ministry of Education and the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

The group consulted widely, and set up expert panels to consider the contributions made by the media, business, education and cultural sectors to knowledge and understanding of Asia.

It also commissioned a review of studies about existing levels of knowledge about Asia - Knowledge of Asia: The New Zealand Situation.
The review is available from the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s website www.asianz.org.nz

Ends.

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