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 for Asian-language training for diplomats was doubled. The non-profit organisation Asia 2000, later renamed the Asia New Zealand Foundation, was created.
In colonial times Chinese commodity shops and market gardens sold a range of Asian vegetables and other foods to both 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.
In 2006 almost 30,000 New Zealand students were studying Japanese at high school, making it the second most popular language 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 or China. New Zealanders regularly travelled to Asia as tourists; in 2008, 58,900 went to China, 29,900 to Thailand and 27,700 to India.
Following the Immigration Policy Review of 1986 the informal policy favouring the immigration of white people gave way to an active recruitment of Asian businesspeople. In 1970 just 354 Asians migrated to New Zealand. Between 1986 and 2006 the number of New Zealand residents who had been born in Asia increased from 33,834 to 251,130.
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. For their part, 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, where one in five people was 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 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. Ethnic Chinese, Korean, Indian and Pakistani MPs had been elected to Parliament, and in 2006 Anand Satyanand, a New Zealander of Indo-Fijian descent, became 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.
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, South Korea, the Philippines, Japan and other parts of the region.