Preparing for an Uncertain Korean Future: Paul Bellamy Examines New Zealand's Relationship with North Korea and Likely Developments on the Korean Peninsula

By Bellamy, Paul | New Zealand International Review, November-December 2011 | Go to article overview

Preparing for an Uncertain Korean Future: Paul Bellamy Examines New Zealand's Relationship with North Korea and Likely Developments on the Korean Peninsula


Bellamy, Paul, New Zealand International Review


New Zealand and North Korea relations are very challenging, and are likely to remain so into the future. Relations are restricted by Korean peninsula tensions along with the North's nuclear and missile development, abuse of human rights and illegal business activities. Such possible future scenarios as North Korean instability, reunification and conflict should also be considered. Helping achieve stability and peace on the peninsula is vital for New Zealand's interests. Although New Zealand's influence is limited and there are serious practical issues, there may be opportunities for greater involvement in achieving these goals in the future.

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Relations between New Zealand and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) are very challenging. This relationship is briefly outlined before the focus turns to factors shaping relations, their future and New Zealand's potential role in helping promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

New Zealand-North Korean relations were minimal after the Korean War, New Zealand being reluctant to establish formal relations despite North Korean approaches. Several key factors underlay this reluctance. New Zealand had fought against the North in the Korean War, and continued to have security commitments on the peninsula. Closely interlinked was the Cold War and New Zealand's opposition to communism. New Zealand's reluctance to engage with the North was strengthened by North Korean hostility towards the Republic of Korea (South Korea), its authoritarian regime

and poor human rights record, its dubious attempts to obtain recognition and diplomatic accord, and unease over moves to increase its regional presence. Similarly, New Zealand was influenced by its partners and ASEAN neighbours, plus aware of South Korean sensitivities and reluctant to risk damaging relations with an increasingly important trading partner. However, limited contact with North Korea during the early 1970s increased in the late 1980s. The Cold War's conclusion and increased North-South interaction provided the background for semi-official New Zealand-North Korean dialogue. This was further encouraged by re-evaluations of relations with the North by countries like Australia, recognition that dialogue was vital in resolving peninsula issues, and interest in exploring avenues for further engagement. A New Zealand diplomat visited North Korea for the first time in August 1997.

Diplomatic relations were formally established in March 2001, Graham Kelly making the first official visit to North Korea that July. New Zealand believed diplomatic relations would facilitate engagement with North Korea on issues such as regional security and humanitarian relief, while economic ties might develop. North Korea believed normalising relations would increase mutual understanding and trust. North Korean officials have visited New Zealand eight times since 1991, most recently in May 2007, with four of these visits involving ambassadors. Since 1999 there have been fifteen official New Zealand visits to North Korea, generally for presentation of credentials and accreditation, but Foreign Minister Winston Peters visited in November 2007. The most recent visit, during May 2011, was led by Richard Mann, New Zealand's ambassador in Seoul, who is cross-accredited to Pyongyang.

The visit sought to:

* reinforce concern that North Korea cease provocations and honour commitments to denuclearisation;

* obtain insights into political and economic developments;

* and engage on human rights concerns and lodge New Zealand's on-going interest in promoting human rights.

Reliable friend

South Korea views New Zealand as a reliable friend with a reasonable and rational position on the North. However, one former New Zealand ambassador to South Korea notes that the South 'is always happy to have others involved in their problem--as long as that involvement hews to Seoul's policy line.

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Preparing for an Uncertain Korean Future: Paul Bellamy Examines New Zealand's Relationship with North Korea and Likely Developments on the Korean Peninsula
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