Sydney - The number of New Zealanders who see China as a geopolitical threat has climbed, according to a new survey.
The research was conducted by the Asia New Zealand Foundation, a Wellington-based non-profit organization.
It has been sampling the views of New Zealanders since 1997. Of the more than 1100 people surveyed in the most recent study, just 13% saw China as a friend, which is a record low.
Fifty-eight percent of respondents consider China to be a geopolitical threat. That apprehension has increased from last year's figure of 37%. The foundation says the views of New Zealanders are influenced by media stories, which have charted Beijing's growing assertiveness in the Pacific region and its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea.
Only 10% of respondents to the study considered that China would act responsibly in the world.
The Asia New Zealand Foundation executive director Simon Draper said the bilateral relationship with Beijing was once mostly based on trade, but had become increasingly entwined in global politics.
He told Radio New Zealand that has caused tensions to rise.
"New Zealand's relationship with China was pretty uncomplicated, you know, we sold them and continue to sell them in large numbers dairy, and meat and other goods and services, horticulture etcetera. Over the last few years, we have seen that relationship become a bit more complicated not just with New Zealand and China, but with China with a number of its partners," he said.
The study also revealed that New Zealanders were increasingly worried about cyberattacks and misinformation campaigns perpetrated by other countries.
The research reported that 79% of respondents saw Russia as a threatening country, followed by 75% who had similar fears over North Korea.
The survey has also indicates that New Zealanders increasingly feel a strong connection with Asia "through their friends, their community and their interests."
The government in Wellington has joined Australia in attempting to curb Beijing's security and trade ambitions in the Pacific, which both trans-Tasman neighbors consider to be their traditional sphere of influence.
U.S. President Joe Biden and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern earlier this month reaffirmed their strategic partnership and raised concerns about China's recently signed security pact with Solomon Islands in the Pacific. A joint statement criticized China over alleged human rights abuses, the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong and "unlawful maritime claims" in the South China Sea.
In response, state-media in Beijing accused the Ardern government of "smearing and demonizing" China.