Many New Zealanders know little or nothing about Asia, despite recognising the region as important to our future, a survey has found.

The Asia NZ Foundation's New Zealanders' Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples survey also finds many here did not have confidence in engaging with Asia.

Two-thirds of respondents said they knew little or nothing about Asia, a figure that did not improve from last year.

The annual survey has been running for the last two decades, and interviewed a random sample of 1000 Kiwis aged 15 years and over.


Eight out of ten said Asia was important to New Zealand and economic and social terms, but just a third said they knew a fair amount or a lot of Asia.

This figure was lower than Australia, Europe, the South Pacific and North America.

"We don't back ourselves in our knowledge of Asia," said Simon Draper, the foundation's executive director.

"The foundation suspects this is because this is because the more someone may learn about Asia, the more they realise they don't know enough. Asia is a large and very diverse region."

Draper said Kiwis risked missing out on the growing opportunities in Asia because knowledge and understanding of Asia were key factors.

"Success with Asia is built on relationships, not just transactions," Draper said.

"Without this understanding - and the confidence to give it a go -we risk missing out on opportunities not only in business development and trade, but also in education, career development and travel."

Another four in ten said they had limited knowledge of Asia and limited involvement with Asian cultures.

"We have work to do in addressing this confidence deficit, as it affects our ability to develop relationships and engage well in the region," Draper said.

The survey also found those who knew more of Asia were also more likely to report more positive feelings about Asia and Asian people.

A high number, or eight in ten, also felt school children should learn a language other than English.

More than half, or 53 per cent, said that language should be Chinese and about a fifth said Japanese.

Foundation's deputy chair Steve Maharey, a former vice-chancellor of Massey University, said New Zealand's education system was "fundamentally Eurocentric".

"Whether it's assessment, the way we teach, or the curriculum we provide, it tends to come from a particular world view," he said.

Maharey said increasing curriculum content about Asian cultures, improving access to Asian languages, increasing number of Asian teachers and encouraging more to first-hand experiences in Asia were ways to prepare young Kiwis for the future.

Rob Fyfe, chief executive of Icebreaker and the foundation's honorary adviser, said business people he interacted with expected Asia to become significantly more important in the near future for New Zealand in the light of developments in America and Europe.

"The most common challenge I hear New Zealand business people voice is the difficulty in finding business partners in Asia to work with to advance their business objectives," Fyfe said.

"Lack of understanding of cultural differences, lack of trust, communication barriers and general lack of Asian knowledge often inhibit the creation of long term stable business relationships."