ICAS Special Contribution

No. 20000117-DxB

  Time for New Zealand to Rethink
Position on North Korea

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

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Press release by Don Borrie, Chairperson, NZ-DPRK Society

17 January 2000

The establishment of diplomatic relations between Italy and the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea) is yet another indication that it is time for New Zealand to rethink its position on North Korea and to move forward on normalising relations.

The Italian move has been welcomed around the world. In Northeast Asia, Japan, China and South Korea have all approved. Italy kept South Korea informed of negotiations and Seoul has said that recognition was in line with Kim Dae-Jung's 'engagement policy'. The Japanese, who have resumed talks with North Korea following the Murayama mission late last year, have asked for Italian help in progressing negotiations. The United States response has been non-committal but it is likely that it has privately approved the Italian initiative. Despite ups and downs, relations between Pyongyang and Washington are improving and a normalisation has been hinted at.

Italy joins a number of European states, including Austria, Finland, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden, having diplomatic relations with North Korea, while France and Germany have informal contacts. Reports suggest that Canada, the Philippines and Japan will be following the Italian road and Australia is resuming negotiations with Pyongyang in February.

Establishment of diplomatic relations would not entail much financial cost for New Zealand. We could follow the Italian example and accredit our embassy in Beijing. This already covers Mongolia. The DPRK for its part would probably accredit its embassy in Jakarta, if one were not established in Canberra before then.

Establishment of diplomatic relations with Pyongyang would not harm our relations with any other country but would, if anything, enhance them. South Korea would react favourably in public and the United States likewise in private. It is congruent with New Zealand's position as a small, non-threatening country with a pro-active peace policy. It would help promote peace in Northeast Asia.

Recognition should be coupled with the provision of aid on a bilateral basis. New Zealand government aid is currently funnelled through the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization. Sending direct aid and providing much needed expertise in fields such as agricultural development, environmental protection, language training and international trade would not only help alleviate the still-desperate humanitarian crisis in the DPRK but would win us friends now, and commercial opportunities in the future. Once out of the current crisis the DPRK, with its population of 22 million, has the potential to become a significant market for New Zealand.

It is timely for a new government of New Zealand to take fresh initiatives. DPRK diplomats have made it clear that Pyongyang is keen to establish diplomatic relations with New Zealand. We call upon Foreign Minister Phil Goff to move forward quickly and decisively to normalise relations with Pyongyang and show that New Zealand will take steps actively to promote peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula.

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