While John Key was attending a gala dinner for leaders at the East Asia Summit in Brunei, the media contingent were sipping mocktails at a riverside eatery.

We marvelled at the strangeness of the Islamic monarchy and listened to Lorde on the restaurant speakers.

It illustrated, as if it really needed illustrating, how much more familiar Asia is with us than we are with it.

Barring an approaching storm, Mr Key is due to return to New Zealand tonight on an air force Boeing after a week well spent at summits in Bali and Brunei.


New Zealand has come a long way in expanding its network of friends within Asia.

But there is a long way to go to give them depth, rather than breadth.

Successive NZ Governments have valued the relationship with Asean - the Southeast Asian community of 10 countries lifting itself out of poverty to economic and political power.

With a combined population of 650 million and economic growth, it's a good feeling to be part of the neighbourhood.

The icing on the cake for New Zealand is the free trade agreement with Asean, a deal started by Labour's Phil Goff and sealed by National's Tim Groser in 2009.

Yet with the successes of New Zealand's connections, such as getting the FTA and getting into the East Asia Summit, it's hard to believe New Zealand's national carrier, Air New Zealand, does not fly into a single Asean capital. It flies to only four Asian destinations: Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Bali.

It's not the fault of Air New Zealand; it can't be expected to fly where people don't want to go. But its lack of connections in Asia highlights a disconnect between where NZ's economic future lies and where Kiwis' cultural comfort levels lie.

When young Kiwis get on a plane to go on their OE, where do they go? Still to London, a few to Melbourne, a few venture to South America and the avant garde to Berlin.


They tend not to jump on a plane to go to Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City - and certainly not to Brunei.

Awareness of New Zealand as part of the Asia-Pacific region is still very much a business concept.

An incentive for schools to teach younger Kiwis an Asian language would be a good place to achieve some deeper connections and new traditions that recognise the neighbourhood.