DPR-Korea New Zealand

Promoting diplomatic and cultural relations between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and New Zealand.

After the War

New Zealand and DPRK relations were minimal after New Zealand’s seven-year military involvement in Korea; New Zealand reluctant to establish formal relations despite North Korean approaches. Apart from the War and related Cold War environment, New Zealand’s position was influenced by various factors. These included concern over North Korea’s hostility towards the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) and unwillingness to enter dialogue on peaceful reunification, along with its authoritarianism, poor human rights record and later nuclear program. New Zealand was critical of DPRK attempts to obtain recognition, and its dubious diplomatic record. Furthermore, there was unease over DPRK moves to increase its regional presence, and the potential repercussions of this. New Zealand was influenced by the position of its partners and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) neighbours. It was aware of ROK sensitivities regarding interaction with the DPRK, and reluctant to risk damaging increasingly important relations with the ROK.2 Such factors were noted by both Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Robert Muldoon in 1979, and in 1991 by the Minister of External Relations and Trade, Hon. Don McKinnon, when they said that New Zealand would not enter into relations with the North. 3

The DPRK’s role in terrorist attacks reinforced New Zealand’s position. The 1974 attempt to assassinate ROK President Park Chung-hee, and the 1983 bombing in Myanmar that killed 17 ROK officials were both criticised. With regard to the 1983 incident, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Warren Cooper concluded that “the costs of maintaining diplomatic relations with North Korea greatly outweigh any advantages. That is a lesson we will not quickly forget”.4 The Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Russell Marshall also strongly condemned the “horrendous” destruction of Korean Airlines Flight 858 in November 1987 by a North Korean bomb. Marshall said it would “only add to North Korea’s isolation”.5

“The costs of maintaining diplomatic relations with North Korea greatly outweigh any advantages. That is a lesson we will not quickly forget.”

Hon. Warren Cooper, Minister of Foreign Affairs

However, limited and unofficial contact occurred. Since 1974 (see early 1970s) groups of North Koreans organised by the New Zealand-DPRK Society have visited New Zealand.6 The Society helped organise unofficial North Korean cultural delegation visits in 1974 and 1978 that relied on visas being granted. For instance, the Government refused visas for four North Koreans in March 1980; reportedly as the 1978 delegation broke a prior undertaking not to be politically active. After a 1989 Government review of visits a delegation visited in 1990, followed by the DPRK Ambassador to Indonesia and another delegation the next year. During 1992 the Foreign Affairs Ministers of both countries met in Indonesia. The DPRK was the main destination of 974 short-term New Zealand traveller departures from April 1978 to 2000, mostly to see friends and relatives. Visitors ranged from members of Parliament such as Graham Kelly (1988) and Rt. Hon. Helen Clark (1991) to a Porirua Whitireia performing arts group (1993). Over this same period there were 668 visitor arrivals by DPRK residents, most often for holidays/vacations. Furthermore, there were 67 permanent and long-term arrivals by DPRK residents from April 1978 to 2000.7


2 The author focuses on the 1973-1989 period in his forthcoming New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies
3 ‘High-powered welcome for South Korean PM’. 1979. Evening Post, 4 May, p.4; and Minister of External
Relations and Trade. 1991. ‘Visit of North Korean diplomat’, 7 June.
4 Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. 1983. Press statement, 7 November.
5 Minister of Foreign Affairs. 1988. Press statement, 27 January.
6 This promotes awareness, understanding and contact between New Zealand and DPRK citizens.
7 Please note that travel figures in this article are not necessarily comprehensive. Statistics New Zealand and
Immigration New Zealand.