New Zealand and North Korea: Limited Ties, Uncertain Future: Paul Bellamy Reviews the Relationship between New Zealand and the Korean Communist Regime since the End of the Korean War in 1953

By Bellamy, Paul | New Zealand International Review, July-August 2010 | Go to article overview

New Zealand and North Korea: Limited Ties, Uncertain Future: Paul Bellamy Reviews the Relationship between New Zealand and the Korean Communist Regime since the End of the Korean War in 1953


Bellamy, Paul, New Zealand International Review


Sixty years ago the Korean peninsula was engulfed by a conflict that continues to cast a long shadow. In 1948 the peninsula had been divided along the 38th Parallel with the creation of the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the south and north respectively 0. After increasing tension, North Korea invaded the South in June 1950. Seoul, South Korea's capital, fell within a week, and North Korean forces advanced southwards towards the port of Pusan. The United States asked the United Nations to intervene against the North Koreans, and New Zealand was one of the first states to answer the call with combat assistance. North Korean efforts to seize Pusan failed, and in September 1950 a UN landing behind communist lines in Inchon sparked a North Korean retreat. Two RNZN frigates participated here.

UN forces pursued the North Koreans towards the Yalu River on the border between North Korea and Manchuria. However, Chinese forces intervened in November and forced a UN retreat. Seoul fell once again. New Zealand's ground force contribution (Kayforce), which arrived in Pusan on New Year's Eve, helped to recapture the capital in March 1951. In the following month the New Zealanders played a vital defensive role against a Chinese offensive. A war of attrition then developed with New Zealand duties including support for infantry patrols and defensive fire. New Zealand seamen participated in patrols and helped to protect South Korean-held islands off the west coast. Prolonged negotiations at Panmunjom resulted in an armistice on 27 July 1953, with the two sides separated by a demilitarised zone. No peace treaty has been concluded between North and South Korea.

The Korean War was the Cold War's first significant armed conflict. Overall, about 4700 men served with Kayforce, and a further 1300 in frigates, during New Zealand's seven-year military involvement in Korea. Forty-five men lost their lives (33 during the war), and one Kayforce soldier was taken prisoner of war. Kayforce withdrew in 1957, leaving New Zealand represented by a military liaison officer on the Commonwealth Liaison Mission, Korea, until 1971. (1) New Zealand is a member of the UN Command Military Armistice Commission with a defence attache in Seoul and another three NZDF defence personnel with the commission. Defence links with South Korea also include peacekeeping, exercises, naval visits, defence talks and academic exchanges.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Northern regime

Kim Il-sung ruled North Korea from 1948 to 1994 and his son Kim Jong-il currently governs. Kim Il-sung's reign stressed political and economic self-reliance ('Juche'). While this remains a guiding principle for Kim Jong-il, a stronger military focus is apparent. Although much of the forces are dated and of questionable quality, the North Korean military is one of the world's largest with nuclear tests performed in 2006 and 2009. There is an elaborate 'cult of personality' with loyalty demanded of all citizens. This is reinforced by the arrest and detention of suspected opponents without due process, and North Korea's human rights record is very poor. The centrally-planned economy is largely outdated and widespread poverty and starvation have occurred.

According to Noh Kwang-il, 'we need to recognise the North Korean regime's responsibility for the mass starvation that has occurred in the country, and that North Korea has virtually no concept of human rights'. Noh further states that

   it is very difficult to predict North Korean policy. It
   appears to be trapped by its ideology and in a time warp.
   Its leadership needs to be more forward-looking, and it
   needs courage to break from its old policies to behave like
   a normal and responsible member of the international
   society.

Moreover,

   North Korea has not abided by past agreements and
   tested missiles and nuclear devices, and this has hindered
   relations. … 

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New Zealand and North Korea: Limited Ties, Uncertain Future: Paul Bellamy Reviews the Relationship between New Zealand and the Korean Communist Regime since the End of the Korean War in 1953
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