The early years of New Zealand-North Korean relations, as with later relations, were challenging. Against the Cold War’s background the New Zealand position was primarily shaped by the view that the authoritarian regime’s foreign policy was aggressive and unsophisticated, the prioritising of relations with South Korea, and the stance of friends and allies. Despite this, the decade witnessed moves to build ties that provided foundations for the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2001. The Society had a significant role in promoting relations, and continues to play such a role. Although New Zealand’s position on North Korean officials visiting is now more relaxed, challenges to strengthening relations reminiscent of the 1970s remain. Here concerns over North Korea’s foreign policy and very poor human rights record shared with friends and allies, along with the importance of New Zealand-South Korean relations, are influential. Current relations are further complicated by the North’s nuclear weapons program and its leadership transition during a period of severe economic challenges.
The North under Kim Jong-Un has yet to show strong indications of fundamental change in foreign policy that would facilitate stronger bilateral relations, and caution remains important. However, there have been some positive developments with an apparent desire by the North, assisted by the Society, actively seeking closer relations. For instance, in June 2012 a visiting senior North Korean delegation said that it sought a better relationship, especially in education, cultural and economic fields. Here the delegation was especially interested in New Zealand’s agricultural technology. New Zealand’s Ambassador in Seoul, who is cross-accredited to the North, also presented his credentials to the DPRK in September. Overall, constructive communication and interaction with North Korea was important in the 1970s in helping to build foundations for a diplomatic relationship. The need for dialogue fostering mutual trust, transparency, and cooperation is even more important today with a nuclear-capable country operating within an increasingly inter-connected global community.