China increasingly seen as a threat than a friend by New Zealanders – survey

By RNZ.co,nz and is republished with permission

More New Zealanders are viewing China as a threat rather than a friend, for the first time, a new survey suggests.

New Zealanders also reported feeling closer to many Asian nations than before and showing an interest in them.

The findings are part of Asia New Zealand Foundation’s annual survey – New Zealanders’ Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples (2020) – which has been running for more than 20 years.

There was a drop in people who viewed China as friendly, from 40 percent in 2019 to 31 percent, while those who saw China as a threat increased, from 21 percent in 2019 to 35 percent.

Victoria University of Wellington’s New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre director Jason Young believed issues on Hong KongUyghurs, the South China Sea, how China handled the Covid-19 outbreak, and the deteriorating relationship between China and the United States all played a part.

He said the growing threat perception was concerning, and more work needed to be done to find out why the shift had occurred and try to address those issues.

“I think that if that trend continues, then that would likely have a detrimental impact on the bilateral relationship and New Zealand’s ability to achieve security and prosperity in the region.”

Respondents said they believed China was a key relationship that New Zealand should put extra efforts into building.

Young agreed, saying the government and business community had been working to build ties, but more needed to be done to enhance understanding about China, socially and academically.

“We’re still, I think, very far away from where we should be in terms of the type of courses and understandings and stories and knowledge that we have of such a large and important country.”

The report found more people view South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, India, Vietnam, and Indonesia as friendly compared to previous years.

It also found New Zealanders connected with Asia through a range of interests, including increasingly through music, art, literature, languages, politics, history and current affairs. Māori respondents also felt a sense of cultural connection with Asia and had an interest in learning more.

Race relations commissioner Meng Foon said this year’s report reflected a better understanding of Asia, and encouraged more positive exchanges.

New Zealand's new Race Relations Commissioner, Meng Foon
Race relations commissioner Meng Foon. Photo: supplied

“More particularly, I’m heartened by how Māori feel about Asian people in terms of the relationship concepts and whakawhanaungatanga,” Foon said.

“Building good relationships with any country is good. We have a big influence in how we relate to each other. I think world harmony and world peace is important.”

Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper said in early surveys in the mid ’90s, New Zealanders generally viewed Asia as distant and irrelevant, but things had changed.

“New Zealanders are saying, you know, they see themselves as part of Asia, that Asia touches their lives in a way that it simply didn’t when we started over 20 years ago and it touches their everyday lives where they travel, who their friends are, what they’re reading, what they’re eating … the gaming, all those things.”

Draper said it was positive that New Zealanders had an appetite for learning more about Asian countries.

The survey also showed less of a positive sentiment towards the United States, which both Young and Foon say might be due to the Trump administration and New Zealanders’ general discomfort with a superpower.

Colmar Brunton lead the survey, which more than 2000 New Zealanders took part in through October and November last year. The results have been weighted so that they are representative of New Zealanders by age, gender, ethnicity and location.

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