A former New Zealand ambassador to China has been appointed executive director of a leading organization to boost New Zealanders\' understanding of Asia. John McKinnon, ambassador to China from 2001 to 2004 and currently Secretary of Defence, will replace retiring Richard Grant at the helm of the Asia New Zealand Foundation later this year, the organization announced Thursday. Foundation Chairman Philip Burdon said that he was delighted to have found such a suitable person to take over the direction of the foundation. \"John McKinnon comes to this position, not only with a strong record of management at the most senior levels of the public service, but also with a deep knowledge of Asia, particularly China,\" Burdon said in a statement. McKinnon spoke and read Chinese. Having studied the language whilst in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, he had twice been posted to Beijing. He had wide professional experience of dealing with other countries in Asia during his career, having once been deputy secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade responsible for Asia. \"There has never been a time when deepening New Zealand\'s relations with Asia has been so important to New Zealand\'s future, \" Burdon said. \"The foundation is the leading institution outside government to promote New Zealanders\' engaging with the countries, cultures and peoples of the Asian region. The future of this country is intimately connected to developments in this region. The foundation is committed to supporting the government\'s initiatives in this area.\" Founded in 1994, the Asia New Zealand Foundation describes itself as \"the leading public-private organization\" involved in increasing New Zealanders\' knowledge and understanding of Asia. The statement said it ran a series of programs, both in New Zealand and in Asia, to help New Zealanders more directly face the challenges of the Asian century.