The Mekong River flows through India - true or false?

If you answered false, you would be among 39 per cent of New Zealanders who answered correctly. The other large majority, 34 per cent, had no idea.

Results from the Perceptions of Asia and Asian Peoples Survey have been released today and have revealed New Zealanders know very little about the Asian region.

Up to 2000 people from all around the country took part in the survey, by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, at the end of last year.


For the first time, a general knowledge quiz was included, asking people six questions relating to Asia.

Among them were: "What is the political system of Indonesia?" A staggering 43 per cent said they did not know, while 16 per cent answered correctly - democratic.

Seventy-three per cent of participants knew that China did the most trade in goods and services with New Zealand, but the majority incorrectly thought New Zealand received most of its foreign investment, in 2016, from Asia.

Only 7 per cent answered correctly - Australia/ Oceania.

Asia NZ Foundation chief Simon Draper said the inclusion of the general knowledge quiz in this year's survey - which has been running for the past 20 years - was in response to their findings last year; in which six out of 10 Kiwis continued to say they knew little about the region.

"We thought this was just a confidence thing, that New Zealanders just weren't backing themselves in what they know about Asia.

"They weren't complicated questions. For example, does the Mekong River flow through India? The average mark was two correct answers out of six. That's a fail.''

Draper said this year's findings confirmed what Kiwis felt.


"It's not just a confidence thing - they really lack some basic knowledge."

What was surprising, however, was the lack of knowledge among young New Zealanders, he said.

A total of 52 per cent of participants aged between 15 and 30 did not provide any correct answers or only provided one right answer.

"What the survey showed is that, in fact, young New Zealanders know less about Asia than the general population.''

To help young Kiwis learn more about Asia, the Foundation is pushing a programme dubbed #ThinkAsia (CORRECT) over the next few months to help young people understand more about the region and also equip themselves with Asia-related skills.

Test yourself

1. What is the political system of Indonesia? Authoritarian, democratic, monarchic, totalitarian, don't know.

2. Which of the following did the most trade in goods and services with NZ? China, Japan, India, Singapore, South Korea, don't know.

3. Where did NZ receive most foreign investment in 2016? Asia, Australia/Oceania, Europe, North America, South America, don't know.

4. Mekong River does not flow through: India, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, don't know.

5. Which of the following has the largest population of Muslims? Indonesia, India, Malaysia, Philippines, China, don't know.

6. Describe the Belt & Road initiative. (Answers below)


Aucklander Dr Angela Lim is proud of her Malaysian heritage, but is also a staunch Kiwi.

The 28-year-old, who works at Starship Children's Hospital, moved to New Zealand with her parents and siblings when she was 15.

In her experience, Kiwis' knowledge of Asia only touched the surface of what was a very rich culture, people and region.

"I think that we have a good appreciation of the more public cultural elements - stuff like Asian food, Asian languages. I think we have a good understanding of that.

"But it's superficial. There's a lack of understanding from a cultural perspective. What are the values that we hold? How are we building those relationships?"

Dr Lim said she was not surprised that many young Kiwis knew even less about the real Asia, as many got their information and news via social media.

"The social media tools that we use today basically do not allow you to have that cross-pollination.

"Unfortunately, because of the negative perceptions that are spun out in the media and the idea of 'how do we perceive Asians' - when you have such negative stereotype, you do not want to know more about the country, by association.

"By association, we don't immediately think about Asia when we think about work and play."

Dr Lim called on all New Zealanders to celebrate what it means to be Asian, what it means to be people living in the Asia-Pacific region and learning about the people.

"I think those are the things that are yet to be challenged - beyond the superficial: 'I have dumplings for lunch and therefore I understand'."


1. Democratic, 2. China, 3. Australia/Oceania, 4. India, 5. Indonesia, 6. A development strategy launched by the Chinese Government to promote economic co-operation.