New Zealand-DPRK relations were tense after the Korean War and during the Cold War, but the 1970s started with an unplanned August 1971 meeting between the DPRK Consul-General in Singapore and New Zealand’s High Commissioner. The Consul-General asked whether DPRK journalists could visit New Zealand. He was told this was ‘highly unlikely’, the High Commissioner emphasising New Zealand’s relationship with the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea). Indeed the High Commissioner said ‘I fear I may have overdone things a little by my glowing tributes to the democratic nature of the Republic of Korea but it had the desired effect of persuading Mr Sok [Consul-General O. Man Sok] that there was little point in carrying the discussion further’.
This meeting occurred as the North Koreans said they represented the ‘Republic of Korea’ when contacting the High Commissioner, thus being mistaken for South Koreans. The High Commissioner labelled this a ‘ruse’ to ‘confuse simple-minded heads of mission such as myself’. He apologised to the Government for his ‘diplomatic indiscretion’, and any embarrassment caused by meeting the ‘wrong’ Korean representative. The Ministry remarked that ‘sooner or later we may have to let some North Koreans pay us a visit, but for the moment it does not seem to us to be a particularly appropriate time’.
The DPRK Ambassador in China met Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Walding during his Chinese visits in 1973. According to mission member Chris Elder, after their arrival that March the Chinese asked if Walding would meet the DPRK Ambassador. ‘This was a bit embarrassing as we did not have diplomatic relations, but we did not want to disoblige our hosts’, so the Ambassador unofficially visited Walding’s guest house. A ‘highlight’ for New Zealand officials involved Walding, after being ‘deluged with references to Our Great Leader Kim Il-Sung, gravely saying that he would refer what he had heard to his Great Leader, Norman Kirk’.
In December 1973 there was an attitude among Ministry officials that arguments for moving towards recognising the North were ‘conclusive’. These included the desire to help unite Asia, acceptance that two Koreas existed, and the inconsistency with the recognition of North Vietnam. Canberra thought Wellington was interested in recognising the North and might establish diplomatic relations at the same time, Australia briefly doing this in 1974. However, it was considered tactically better to wait longer so as not to ‘identify New Zealand’s policy with Australia’. South Korea made a ‘strong plea’ for New Zealand to try dissuading Australia. Indeed it was reported that the ROK had threatened to break-off diplomatic relations with Australia, New Zealand opposing this.