The Rugby World Cup and the shared tragedies of earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan have made New Zealanders feel warmer towards Asia, a survey has found.
The Asia NZ Foundation's latest Perceptions of Asia research found that 83 per cent of Kiwis rate the Asian region as important or very important to New Zealand's future, which is the highest level in the past decade.
The annual survey also found that more than 21 per cent said they felt warmer towards Asian people, and more than four out of five agreed that Asians contributed significantly to New Zealand society.
"Seventeen per cent of those who said they felt warmer [towards Asia] believed that this was because New Zealanders felt more sympathetic or empathetic towards people from Asia because of natural disasters that occurred in the region," the report says.
"This was like due in large part to the earthquake in Japan ... the help received from countries such as China and Japan during the Christchurch earthquakes had also had an impact."
The report also says the Rugby World Cup had raised New Zealand's profile internationally, and this contributed to an overall "brighter outlook" and feeling of optimism.
The survey asked slightly more than 1000 people between last September and October to rate their feelings towards people from China, Japan, and India from zero, which is "very cold and unfavourable" to 100, meaning "very warm and favourable". Feelings for warmth towards Japan increased from 73 to 76, while feelings for those from India and China remained consistent with the previous survey, at 69 and 70 respectively.
Japanese health spa worker Yuka Numata, 32, who moved to New Zealand 10 years ago, said she had noticed a change in Kiwi attitudes towards Asians since the earthquakes.
"It's definitely for the better, and they seem warmer and more welcoming," said Miss Numata, originally from Okayama. "Even though I am not affected by the quake, many still show their concern when they find out I am from Japan."
Her colleague Kaoru Warabioka, 30, who moved to Auckland from Osaka three years ago, agreed. "The earthquakes have given us and Kiwis something common to share and talk about."
The survey found that contact New Zealanders have with Asians is also on the rise - with 72 per cent (up from 65) saying they had Asian friends, 33 per cent (up from 28) attended local Asian events and 65 per cent (up from 58 per cent) have travelled to an Asian country.
The number of Kiwis who believed Asian immigrants took away jobs from New Zealanders fell from 29 to 25 per cent, and those who thought Asians did not mix well with other New Zealanders dropped from 40 per cent to 35 per cent.
For the first time since the survey started, in 1997, people were asked about their perceptions of Asian investments in New Zealand, following the controversies surrounding the sale of the Crafar farms to the Chinese. Some 74 per cent agreed that Asian investments was good for the New Zealand economy, with only 13 per cent disagreeing.
More than a fifth said they considered New Zealand to be part of Asia.
"It's heartening the survey shows four out of five New Zealanders agree that Asian immigrants contribute significantly to this country and bring cultural diversity, but there are clearly challenges ahead," said foundation chairman Philip Burdon.
"More than half of those surveyed believe New Zealand needs to do more to prepare our young people to engage confidently with Asia."
New Zealanders mostly thought about China and Japan when asked to think about Asia, and few had any knowledge or understanding of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes countries such as Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand. An overwhelming majority had not heard of the term Asean.
The study also found New Zealanders felt much warmer towards Asians than did Australians, who rated only 64 for Japan, 55 for India, and 54 for China.By Lincoln Tan Email Lincoln