An Independent New Zealand Policy in North East Asia

Seeking peace and mutual prosperity              -               The Korean Question

Executive Summary


North East Asia (NEA) has become increasingly important to the New Zealand economy over recent decades. Of  the world’s regions NEA has become the most significant, accounting for 27% of all international trade – more than double that of North America or Europe. Where-as two-way trade has levelled off with both North America and Europe, trade with NEA continues to grow and this trend is expected to continue.

This growth trend however is predicated on an assumption of peace in the region. Although dead elsewhere, the flames of the Cold War continue to flicker on the Korean Peninsula. Events of recent times present an elevated  risk of war; the Yeonpyeong land-based artillery exchange of November 2010 was the first since the armistice was signed 29th July 1953. Given the pivotal role of NEA in international trade, re-ignition of the Korean war would adversely affect most countries around the world; especially so New Zealand as an importer of manufactured goods and exporter of primary produce to the region.

Some sixty years after the signing of the Korean War Armistice, (in the words of the agreement) neither ‘a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea’ nor ‘a final peaceful settlement’ have been achieved. The stalemate continues. The current situation is that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is willing to enter into talks with no preconditions.  The United States of America (USA) is not willing to enter into talks without precondition, demanding that the North take ‘concrete and irreversible steps towards denuclearisation’ before any talks can take place. The North has made it clear that it will not get rid of its nuclear armament capability until hostilities have ceased and it is assured of security. The DPRK says Peace Treaty first. The US says denuclearisation first. And so it goes on - the stalemate of the past six decades continues with no end in sight. A continuation of this stalemate in an atmosphere of elevated tensions and risk of war is not in New Zealand’s best interests.

The current New Zealand policy of unquestioningly following the United States lead in all matters relating to the Koreas may be in the best interests of the USA, but that does not mean that it is in the best interests of New Zealand.

The United States North Korean policy is really a subset of policy to address a rising China. It is based on the premise that sanctions will weaken the DPRK and so cause regime collapse. In fact the reverse has happened and the population is arguably more strongly behind the Kim regime than ever. What the policy is achieving is malnutrition of the North Korean population and an increasing risk of outright war. Conflagration on the Korean peninsula would inevitably result in devastating loss of life, destruction of infrastructure painfully built up over many decades and a disruption of international trade with drastic impact on the New Zealand economy.

Events of the past six decades show that the post-war structure set in place by the Armistice Agreement is not working. Under leadership of the ‘UN Command’, no progress has been made towards achieving a state of peace. It is the NZ DPRK Society’s belief that New Zealand should not continue to accept this situation. It is time to re-think the NEA situation and formulate an independent policy which can best serve New Zealand’s long term interests. The objective should be a more realistic and contextually appropriate policy in the region - a policy which will pro-actively advocate and seek a peaceful non-military solution to the Korean situation.

Specifically in relation to the DPRK, it is suggested that the policy should be designed on the following basic assumptions:

·         New Zealand can better understand the situation and achieve more influence by having an active bilateral relationship with DPRK, rather than the current policy of limited engagement;

·         It is not the role of New Zealand or any other country to determine the governmental regime in DPRK, that is something for the people to sort out;

·         A pre- condition for unification is that there be a cessation of hostilities; and

·         Once there has been a cessation of hostilities, unification is a matter for the North and the South to sort out.

It is further suggested policy be built around the following elements:

  • Initiation of a more active New Zealand–DPRK bilateral relationship, to include dialogue on working towards a non-military peace solution on the peninsula.
  • The bilateral relationship to be a genuine two–way process which could include cultural exchanges, sister city relationships, exchanges of students and teachers, special projects such as ornithological and economic partnerships including joint ventures such as fishing.  
  •  New Zealand to internationally signal its commitment to finding a peaceful non-military solution by adopting a neutral position and stating that it will not take part in any military action on the Korean peninsula.
  • New Zealand to approach the other countries who made up the Korean War UN Command forces to support a demand that the United Nations (or the International Red Cross) re-convene (in the words of the Armistice Agreement) a political conference of a higher level of both sides be held by representatives appointed respectively to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, etc.
  • New Zealand to advocate a lifting of sanctions so that DPRK can develop normal trade relations with the rest of the world and thereby generate the income necessary to buy adequate food for its population.
  • In the interests of DPRK becoming better understood and the opening up of both formal and informal communication lines, New Zealand to play a role in encouraging DPRK observer status or full membership in:

1.                  Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)

2.                  ASEAN plus 3  (APT)

3.                                   East Asia Summit  (EAS)

4.                  Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA)

  • New Zealand to actively advocate DPRK membership of the International Monetary Fund, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) and the Asian Development Bank.
The full paper can be downloaded as  a PDF file from below:

23 Nov 2011, 12:16