Asia & the New NZ

2020 started like most other years, as an opportunity to reset or build on what we did the previous year or years. Except, for the shocking and abrupt schism of COVID-19, a truly global event and a shock that is still to fully play out across the planet.

2020 is the year of the Rat. The Chinese zodiacal Rat symbolises and promises to bring renewal, strength and determination. In some parts of Asia, that renewal is already underway.  AUT University's Lester Khoo looks at the new relationship between Asia and NZ, in a post-COVID world. 

As we continue to comprehend the true nature of the global pandemic, the initial health crisis has quickly turned to an economic paralysis and in some cases, wider social disorder.

Whether we are at an individual, institutional, or governmental  level, maintaining and nurturing our relationships with Asia remains important for New Zealand and New Zealanders prosperity, both now and in the future.

We all have had to adjust our lives, from social distancing to working from home using the various platforms from Zoom to Teams, and that myopic feeling and neck strain that comes from countless virtual meetings. Having a sense of connection with family and friends is important.

On the global stage, whilst there has been political fallout among some nations during COVID, one should not forget the personal contacts and relationships that you and we have with our close Asian neighbours. When we represent ourselves or institution with a larger entity like China, we do so in this context rather than country to country, putting aside any antagonism that may be felt over wider geopolitical matters.

Whilst international travel has been completely reset and communication limited to online, we ought to be preparing now for an eventual face to face meeting when it is safe, and when the time is right.

 Let’s take Vietnam as an example. Vietnam has been lauded for its COVID-19 response. For a country of 100 million people, no official deaths have been recorded – a remarkable feat.

Standard Chartered Bank forecasts Vietnam’s economic growth in 2020 to reach 3.3 percent, an incredible prediction given the flattening of the global economy and massive disruption to supply chains.

VietNam's Prime Minister has gone one step further, setting his country's growth target at an ambitious 5 percent, even while the global pandemic is yet to run its course. 

vietnam leader2

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc

The prime minister is actively encouraging foreign investment, describing it as a "crucial factor" for surpassing 5 percent GDP growth this year, along with the local private sector's investment, exports, public investment, and  domestic consumption.

"VietNam's economy is like a compressed spring waiting to be stretched out," Phuc said.

 VietNam’s growth, in part, has benefited from the ongoing US-China trade war with the likes of Nintendo, Apple, Samsung, and Google relocating parts of their manufacturing to VietNam.

 The ASEAN region as a whole will decline sharply in economic growth to 2.2 percent in 2020 with an expectation to rebound to more than six percent assuming the world returns to normal in 2021.

The Asia Power Index is an analytical tool developed by the Lowy Institute to track changes in the distribution of power in the region.

Whilst New Zealand has improved over the past year due to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s leadership and relationship with regional leaders, our lack of economic size, military spend and working-age population will result in a drop in our influence across the Asian region in the years to come.

Hence, the importance of a real and meaningful relationships and engagement with our Asian and indeed close ASEAN neighbours is a crucial factor far beyond the simple economics.

Indeed, to see the advantages we need only to look back at the successful Colombo plan that assisted many Asian countries in their educational, economic and social development from the 1950’s to 1970’s.

The Colombo plan created tangible links and relationships that created awareness amongst New Zealanders and the peoples of Asia are neighbours and shared many common interests.  The cultivation of friendships then has been nurtured over the years.

So, what can you do when many borders into Asia are blocked from New Zealand?

Take the challenge of learning an Asian language will enable us to broaden our horizons, and break down some of the cultural barriers and nuances we face in interacting with different cultures and languages.

Whilst it is easier to learn a European language such as French (approximately 600 hours) compared to say the Thai Language (approximately 2,000 hours), now is the time to learn an Asian language.

The demise of courses teaching Asian languages in schools and universities in New Zealand has been notable over the past 10 years, from one in four students to one in five students learning a second language.

The new New Zealand needs Asia more than Asia needs New Zealand.

It is time we invest in this strategic relationship beyond the economic imperative.

- Asia Media Centre