“Normalising relations with Pyongyang would enable New Zealand to engage North Korea on issues of key concern for the region such as security and humanitarian relief.”
– Hon. Phil Goff, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 2001
A New Zealand delegation visited the DPRK in September 2000, and the following month North and South Koreans met at a New Zealand conference. Here the Director of the External Affairs of the Institute for Disarmament and Peace, Pyongyang, observed that New Zealand knew South Korea very well and now needed to know the North much better. Diplomatic relations were formally established in March 2001, MP Graham Kelly making the first official visit after this in July. Goff said “normalising relations with Pyongyang would enable New Zealand to engage North Korea on issues of key concern for the region such as security and humanitarian relief”. He also expressed hope that some economic ties might develop in the long-term. The DPRK said “the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries will contribute to the deepening of the mutual understanding and trusts of the two countries and peoples as well as to the development of bilateral relations in all fields”. 10
New Zealand has various communication channels with the DPRK. These include formal diplomatic ties and engagement through international processes. New Zealand’s Ambassador in Seoul is cross-accredited to the DPRK, while Foreign Affairs Minister Hon. Winston Peters visited Pyongyang in November 2007. Here the DPRK expressed interest in closer relations,and areas of potential co-operation were covered. Commenting in December 2009, Patrick Rata (then Unit Head, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Asia Division) said New Zealand diplomats were treated with respect by their DPRK counterparts during a May 2009 visit, and appreciated the opportunity to both visit the DPRK, and talk with leaders. They registered New Zealand’s concerns with the DPRK, such as over human rights.
“I came with certain impressions… It is clearly a society that is unusual in most respects with the freedom of movement and information, but I saw glimmers of enough change to believe that we could be seeing a real change going on here.”
– Rt. Hon. Winston Peters, Minister for Foreign Affairs, 2007
North Korea’s Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, is responsible for diplomatic relations with New Zealand. North Korean Ambassadors cross-accredited to New Zealand have visited three times since 2001, most recently in May 2007. However, a visit is scheduled for August 2012. From 1999 to early 2012 there were 15 official New Zealand visits to the DPRK, generally for credentials and accreditation. The most recent visit occurred in May 2011 where New Zealand again registered its concerns over North Korean actions.
New Zealand has sought to increase Korean Peninsula security and North Korea’s development. New Zealand contributed US$2.5 million between 1995 and 2005 to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO). This aimed to help provide an interim supply of oil until DPRK reactors capable of producing nuclear weapons material were replaced with reactors that could not easily make such material. Since 1995 development aid worth over $4.1 million has also been provided to the DPRK. Aid has primarily focused on addressing major food shortages through international aid agencies and small head of mission fund. 11
Contentious issues significantly influence the bilateral relationship. Key obstacles to closer relations are North Korea’s human rights record, illegal activities along with its nuclear and missile tests. Rata noted in December 2009, “New Zealand supports the Six Party Talks and hopes that the DPRK will open up to the international community. It supports dialogue with the DPRK, its denuclearisation, progress in respect for human rights, and hopes the DPRK lives up to its international commitments”. Furthermore, “New Zealand seeks the DPRK to refrain from provocative acts such as nuclear and missile tests”, and “looks forward to a DPRK positively engaged with the international community, showing respect for human rights and upholding its international commitments. This would help create an environment where further reflections on New Zealand policy towards the DPRK can be made”.
Reaction to this position is mixed. In 2009 then ROK Ambassador to New Zealand His Excellency Noh Kwang-il believed that New Zealand’s policy was “reasonable and rational” with the ROK closely consulted. Contrasting this, the New Zealand-DPRK Friendship Society opposes New Zealand’s position. The Reverend Don Borrie, its Chairperson, believes there was a “noticeable relaxation” of attitudes towards the DPRK under the previous [Labour-led] government but there now is a hard-line anti-DPRK position. He believes that “New Zealand- DPRK relations will only improve if New Zealand opens up to the DPRK, and is prepared to show genuine concern and interest in the wellbeing of its people.”
“New Zealand-DPRK relations will only improve if New Zealand opens up to the DPRK, and is prepared to show genuine concern and interest in the well-being of its people.”
– Rev. Don Borrie, NZ-DPRK Society
Relations between North and South Korea have been especially tense since the sinking of the ROK naval ship Cheonan in March 2010, and North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island that November. An international investigation concluded the sinking resulted from a DPRK torpedo (the DPRK has denied this), and New Zealand has responded. Foreign Minister Hon. Murray McCully in May 2010 expressed grave concern. He urged the DPRK to “refrain from further destabilising acts”, and to “refocus its efforts towards peace and dialogue”. New Zealand would support the ROK and others in “considering appropriate responses that encourage stability on the Korean Peninsula”.12 In July 2010 Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. John Key reaffirmed his support for the ROK by condemning North Korea’s attack, and expressed his condolences to the bereaved families. He reiterated New Zealand’s on-going commitment to peace and security on the Peninsula, and support for efforts to achieve North Korea’s complete and verifiable denuclearisation.13 Rev Don Borrie questions the international investigation’s conclusions and New Zealand’s stance.
Likewise, New Zealand expressed “outrage” over the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. McCully said this incident represented “a new and dangerous level of aggression” by the DPRK. Moreover, “New Zealand joins other countries in expressing our sense of outrage over this attack and the consequent loss of life”. 14 This response has been termed “timely and proper” by the ROK Embassy.15 Rev Don Borrie believes that New Zealand “needs to be actively promoting dialogue, not confrontation, including seeking the replacement of the ceasefire Armistice Agreement with a Peace Treaty”. 16 More recently, the New Zealand Government has expressed hope that the post-Kim Jong Il leadership transition will be smooth and the long-term outlook for North Koreans will improve.17