Story: Asia and New Zealand

Page 6. Asia in New Zealand

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A push for greater understanding

The growing economic interest in Asia during the 1980s and 1990s spurred efforts to encourage a better understanding of the region. New embassies were opened and funding was doubled for Asian-language training for diplomats. The non-profit organisation Asia 2000, later renamed the Asia New Zealand Foundation, was created.

Asian food

In colonial times Chinese commodity shops and market gardens sold a range of Asian vegetables and other foods to Chinese and non-Chinese customers. Later, Asian immigrants changed the culinary landscape of New Zealand. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Thai and Malaysian restaurants and takeaway shops joined existing fish-and-chip shops and steak houses. Asian foods and ‘fusion’ dishes became part of the everyday diet of many non-Asian New Zealanders.

By 2006 almost 30,000 New Zealand students were studying Japanese at high school, making it the second most popular language to study after French. Asia had also become more of a destination for New Zealanders. Many went to teach English as a second language in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China. New Zealanders regularly travelled to Asia as tourists as well; in 2008, 58,900 went to China, 29,900 to Thailand and 27,700 to India.

Asian immigration

Following the Immigration Policy Review of 1986 the informal policy encouraging immigration of white people gave way to an active recruitment of Asian business migrants. In 1970 just 354 Asians migrated to New Zealand. Between March 1986 and March 2006 the number of New Zealand residents that had been born in Asia increased almost sevenfold, from 33,834 to 251,130.

Relationship difficulties

Political relations with Asia were not always easy. Concerns over human rights abuses complicated ties with Indonesia and China. Energetic protest groups sprang up to demand independence for East Timor and Tibet. Politicians constantly referred to Asia’s importance, but much of the public did not feel linked to the region. Asian migrants in New Zealand were the target of racist political attacks. Many Asian governments continued to see Australia and New Zealand as ‘European’ outsiders.

In 2006, 354,552 New Zealand residents identified themselves as being of Asian ethnicity. Two-thirds of these ‘usually lived‘ in the Auckland region, and almost one in five people living in the Auckland region were of Asian ethnicity.

Globalisation and regionalisation

At the beginning of the 21st century New Zealand was more closely connected to Asia than at any time in its history. The country was an active participant in a network of regional institutions and had established close bilateral relations with many Asian nations. Seven of the country’s top 10 export markets were in East Asia. Meanwhile iconic New Zealand brands like Fisher and Paykel and Icebreaker were manufacturing their goods in Asia and then exporting them to the world.

New Zealand banks, insurance companies and other service industries increasingly relied on Asian call centres, software and accounting companies.

Finding the earliest Asian links

Many researchers now believe that New Zealand connections with Asia began with the arrival of the Polynesians. Linguistic and genetic evidence indicates that Polynesians share a common ancestor with the indigenous people of Taiwan.

Asian New Zealand

By 2002 the country had 17 Chinese-language newspapers, four radio stations and numerous media websites. Parliament had seen the election of ethnic Chinese, Korean, Indian and Pakistani MPs, and in 2006 Anand Satyanand, a New Zealander of Indo-Fijian descent, became the country’s 19th governor-general.

Asian companies are increasingly looking to invest in New Zealand. Sometimes this has been controversial, as in 2011 when a Chinese company sought to buy dairy farms.

Estimates suggest that almost 700,000 New Zealanders will be of Asian origin by 2026 – roughly the same as the number of Māori. A new generation of bilingual Asian New Zealanders is growing up, connecting the country to China, India, Korea, the Philippines, Japan and other parts of the region.

How to cite this page:

David Capie, 'Asia and New Zealand - Asia in New Zealand', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 29 January 2020)

Story by David Capie, published 20 Jun 2012