DPR-Korea New Zealand

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

Development of diplomatic relations

As interaction increased so did diplomatic contact; the Foreign Ministers of both countries meeting during 1992. Christopher Butler (Ambassador in Seoul 1990-1993) had no direct contact with North Korea. However, he visited the Demilitarised Zone more than once and had interaction both with UN Command Military Armistice Commission representatives, and with the neutral nations’ missions from Sweden and Switzerland that did have contact. Peninsula tensions were evident with Butler recalling ‘monthly air raid drills and, although becoming more relaxed as North-South dialogue developed, a general rule to keep extra cash on hand and fuel in their cars in case there was a need to move quickly. First aid equipment, hard hats and gas masks were standard office equipment and a military presence evident as part of daily life. This low level undercurrent of risk awareness could make New Year firework celebrations particularly exciting’.

With New Zealand’s UN Security Council membership (1993-1994) dialogue occurred but was unproductive. This was because the DPRK focused on recording all the perceived wrongs committed against it despite New Zealand attempts to move discussions back towards Council issues. During 1994 officials in Beijing were ‘treated to a long and, as far as we could tell, standard lecture by the DPRK Ambassador’ expounding ‘in ritual terms’ the North’s ‘paranoid view’ of US interest in the Peninsula. Wellington was asked to adopt at least a neutral stance in the Council on Korea. The North Koreans expressed ‘pleasure’ over the ‘opening of a book of bilateral dialogue in Beijing (and implicit threat of scope for many volumes ahead)’. They were told the meeting had no implications for New Zealand’s policy.

North Korea’s nuclear programme and Peninsula tensions posed further challenges. In 1994 New Zealand told the DPRK that the situation was ‘very grave’, officials fearing the possibility of war through miscalculation. Embassy staff in Seoul felt ‘somewhat exposed and concerned’ over the safety of New Zealanders. Peter Kennedy (Ambassador in Seoul 1993-1995) called North Korea an ‘active volcano, occasionally puffing smoke’. A DPRK invasion was deemed possible and evacuation plans for Embassy staff were ‘dusted off’. The Embassy provided advice and comfort to New Zealanders in South Korea but was disappointed with the absence of support from Wellington. New Zealand also supported the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation (KEDO). Wellington felt KEDO provided an important framework agreement for Asian regional security, and helped demonstrate New Zealand’s credentials as a ‘responsible member of the Asian community’.