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Goff Address to Korean Peninsula Conference

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Speech Notes

Address to Korean Peninsula Conference
University Of Auckland
7 October 2000

Thank you for your invitation to address this seminar, which is taking place at an historic time for Korea. If this Conference had been held a year ago we would have been looking at very different possibilities. In the last year - and particularly since the Summit in June - the outlook for peace on the Korean peninsula has changed fundamentally. Today I would like to speak about New Zealand's response to the remarkable changes that have occurred in relations between the two Koreas.

New Zealand's engagement with the Korean Peninsula began fifty years ago with our participation in the Korean War. Over 6,000 New Zealanders fought in that War. Forty-three of them did not come back and their sacrifice is remembered not only in New Zealand but, as I saw in June, very much also by the South Koreans.

New Zealand maintains a military presence on the Korean Peninsula today through our participation in the United Nations Command. We see the flying of our flag in the Demilitarised Zone as an important symbol of New Zealand's ongoing commitment to peace and stability on the Peninsula.

New Zealand welcomes the recent efforts of both Koreas to ease tensions on the Peninsula through a range of reconciliation initiatives. South Korea's President, Kim Dae-jung, announced at his inauguration in February 1998 that his term in office would hail a new dawn in inter-Korean relations.

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He showed courage in setting off on a new tack, with all the political risks that entails, by extending an olive branch to the North. He decided to start by cooperating wherever possible with the North and not demanding strict reciprocity.

New Zealand declared its support for President Kim's sunshine policy at the outset. It seemed to us an enlightened step forward that deserved support.

The political decisions that brought Chairman Kim Jong Il to the conclusion that dialogue with the South was also in his country’s best interest are harder to chart. North Korea certainly needs to emerge from its isolation if it is to achieve economic recovery through development assistance and trade. The decision to do so also appears to reflect that Kim Jong Il is confident about the security of his leadership within North Korea.

But we should not underestimate the boldness of the decisions that both leaders took. We can surmise that there was debate, at the very least, in the innermost parts of the North Korean leadership. We can assume that there was some intense soul searching about the long term implications of the decision that led Kim Jong Il to the Pyongyang airport in June to welcome President Kim Dae-jung. Whatever the calculations that had been made, the world applauded the decisions, and wished both leaders well as they began their historic work.

The Summit was quickly followed in mid-August by meetings of families separated by the border across the Peninsula. We witnessed emotional scenes when 100 South Koreans and 100 North Koreans were reunited with their long lost loved ones in Seoul and Pyongyang.

A further two such meetings are promised before the end of this year. That news will be welcome to the many older Koreans who had lost hope of ever seeing their relatives again.

Another important breakthrough has been the decision by North and South Korea to reconnect the 20km of road and rail link severed by the Demilitarised Zone.

The exercise will see both militaries working together to remove the hundreds of mines from the Demilitarised Zone to form a safe corridor connecting the two countries.

I visited the border village shared by the two Koreas when I visited Seoul in June this year. Just two weeks after the summit, the symbolism of reconciliation had already begun with the former cross border propaganda broadcasts replaced by classical music.

Ministers of both countries have been establishing contact. Most recently, Defence Ministers met on Cheju Island in South Korea. The Head of North Korea's Workers Party, Kim Yong Sun, has visited South Korea and North Korea's Premier, Kim Yong Nam is likely to visit before the end of this year.

A return visit by Chairman Kim Jong Il to South Korea has been proposed in the first half of next year. We all hope that it takes place.

It is still, however, early days. Fifty years of being technically at war with one another cannot be resolved overnight. It was only a year ago that the worst military incident in Korea since the War took place when patrol boats from the two navies clashed in the West Sea.

The spirit of reconciliation is still in its very early days. In the South political pressure is building for more concrete outcomes. Koreans like to do things quickly, balli balli as they say. But patience will be needed. Progress will not be straight-forward and there will undoubtedly be setbacks along the way.

The process of reconciliation between the two Koreas and resulting improvements in both countries have relevance for New Zealand.

The easing of tensions reduces the possibility of war breaking out again on the Korean Peninsula with the regional and global implications that would have. We hope that an end to hostility will lead to an end to arms proliferation by North Korea and a gradual disarmament on the peninsular. It will contribute to wider disarmament goals if the removal of the perceived missile threat from North Korea encourages the United States not to proceed with National Missile Defence.

Serious instability on the Korean Peninsula would also have a significant impact on New Zealand's economic security given that South Korea has grown to become our fifth largest export market.

With easing of political tensions will come the opportunity for a boost to North Korea’s depressed economy. Economic security in the north is a prerequisite for long term political security. There is a long way to go here, and I applaud the efforts being made by South Korea’s chaebol to establish business ventures in the North.

North Korea's economy declined every year over the last decade as a result, among other things, of the collapse of markets in Eastern Europe and a series of natural disasters. Current gross domestic production is estimated to be only around half what it was at the start of the 1990s, or just one twentieth of South Korea's. New Zealand has provided humanitarian relief to North Korea to ease its food shortages through annual contributions to the World Food Programme.

New Zealand has welcomed North Korea's entry into the ASEAN Regional Forum. We were pleased that North Korea participated for the first time in a Ministerial meeting of the Forum in Bangkok in July. We are looking forward to developing this new channel for dialogue with North Korea given the significance of its role in the security of our region.

New Zealand has been able to pursue its strong concerns about nuclear proliferation as a result of North Korea's efforts to engage more with the international community. We welcomed the agreement whereby, in return for abandoning a nuclear energy development project which many suspected was capable of producing nuclear weapons, the international community would contribute to the building of two nuclear reactors in North Korea. The Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organisation came into being, with New Zealand as one of its founding and ongoing funders.

And in the area of human rights, which is an important aspect of New Zealand's domestic and foreign policy, North Korea has indicated that it is interested in taking other countries' concerns more seriously.

Recently, North Korea provided a report to the United Nations on human rights in its country for the first time since 1984 under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

North Korea's efforts to engage more with the international community have included approaches to New Zealand to establish diplomatic relations. For many years New Zealand made it clear that dialogue with Pyongyang would not start until the North was willing to enter a substantive dialogue with the South.

The Leaders' Summit in June opened that door for us. I was pleased to meet my North Korean counterpart, Mr Paek Nam Sun, for the first time in July in Bangkok. I told Mr Paek that New Zealand was now willing to discuss the normalisation of relations with North Korea.

A delegation of officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade visited North Korea late last month. For the first time New Zealand and the DPRK sat down and began the sort of dialogue that is the normal business of diplomacy between states.

Our delegation made clear to the North Korean Government New Zealand's position on a number of key foreign policy concerns such as disarmament, arms control, regional security and human rights, to establish that there would indeed be a substantive basis for the two countries to form closer ties.

There was no meeting of minds on the concerns New Zealand expressed, but it is important that the dialogue has begun. Engagement rather than isolation means that New Zealand can at least now directly communicate its concerns. North Korea has a clear and realistic appreciation of the issues that will be of importance to New Zealand in any relationship we establish.

North Korean officials expressed appreciation for the humanitarian relief that New Zealand has provided and the assistance given to ease North Korea's energy shortages. North Korean officials also indicated that they would appreciate learning more about New Zealand's expertise in agricultural technology to develop North Korea's forestry industry and improve livestock.

The New Zealand delegation was also interested in gauging business prospects for New Zealand companies in North Korea. Currently there is no trade between New Zealand and North Korea. The impression the delegation gained was that given the current state of the North Korean economy there were unlikely to be any significant opportunities in the short term. At best, companies which have established good business relations with South Korean firms may benefit from some of the new business that they might develop in North Korea.

The summit in June has therefore already had an impact on New Zealand’s dealings with the Korean peninsula. Like the North and the South we are exploring political and diplomatic areas that have been off limits for decades. A new element now enters our important relationship with the Republic of Korea. And a completely new chapter may open in our relationship with the North.

There is still much we have to examine and consider as a government on where we go from here before any announcement is made about establishment of diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. I do not want to underestimate the significance of the issues on which it is clear that we have deep and fundamental differences of view.

Let me give one example. For twenty years New Zealand has been a the forefront of international efforts to prevent the testing of nuclear weapons. The conclusion of the CTBT was a major milestone in international disarmament efforts. North Korea is one of only three countries blocking the treaty coming into effect. It may become the only remaining obstacle. That would be a point of major diplomatic disagreement between us.

Opening relations with Pyongyang would not imply any weakening or rebalancing of our relations with the Republic of Korea. Our economic and political links with the South will remain of a different order and magnitude from any I can see emerging in the near future with Pyongyang. There is a strength in our ties with the ROK that grows not only from our economic links, from the links between our peoples - students, tourists and migrants - but importantly too from our common values as liberal democracies.

A relationship with the DPRK would have to be substantive for it to be worthwhile for New Zealand to pursue. Initially the major elements of substance may have to be political and diplomatic. At first they may focus more on our differences than our points of common concern. But there is much we can work on. Our support for the process of reconciliation on the peninsula is something that we have made known to both countries. With time we hope to see New Zealand’s ties with the DPRK embrace the breadth of economic and social links that we have grown with the South.

The new millenium has brought change to the peninsula, and New Zealand, along with the international community, has given that its wholehearted support. The pace of further change is now in the hands of the leadership and the people of both the ROK and the DPRK. As the relationship between north and south evolves so too will our own dealings with the region. I do not for a moment expect that the road ahead will be without its ups and downs, or that New Zealand’s new relationships will be easy. But the two Korean leaders have embraced a vision of a new future. New Zealand will do what we can to share and support that vision.

Thank you again for the chance to speak with you. I wish you well for a successful conference.

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