NZ halts funding to 'complete nutter' North Korea

Newshub can reveal the New Zealand Government sent aid money to North Korea for at least eight years.

It stopped last year when the Government became worried Kim Jong-un's regime was diverting any money it could get its hands on into its nuclear programme.

It was through something called the "Embassy Fund for North Korea" - a contestable fund managed by the New Zealand embassy in Seoul.

The amount given was small but symbolic. Since 2008, the fund was allocated $30,000 a year, for aid agencies such as Maranatha Trust, Red Cross, Save the Children and Marama Global to buy things like utensils for orphanages, English-language training, water sanitation and food-processing equipment.

NZ halts funding to 'complete nutter' North Korea

"It's not a lot of money and it does provide small relief in some cases to completely innocent people," Foreign Affairs Minister Gerry Brownlee told Newshub.

Those people, Mr Brownlee said, could do with our help.

"It's an awful situation there. You've got a complete nutter running the place."

Part of the money also went to the New Zealand Diplomatic People's Republic of Korea Society to buy fertiliser and six 10-horsepower tractor trailer units for a "New Zealand Friendship Farm" - a 935-hectare farm 40 minutes north of Pyongyang. The farm is home to 2000 people and produces rice, maize and potatoes.

NZ Diplomatic People's Republic of Korea Society farm
Photo credit: NZ-DPRKSociety

The funding was suspended in 2016 after North Korea ramped up its nuclear programme and the Government became concerned about how North Korea was spending money while its people suffered.

"I think [it was suspended] because of the escalation of activities and because it was starting to become clear that every dollar the North Korean government should be spending in the welfare of its own people was actually being diverted into that nuclear programme, which would make us effectively subsidising that," Mr Brownlee said.

When Newshub asked Mr Brownlee if he thought the money from New Zealand was going to the North Korean regime, he said: "I can't answer that at this stage."

And he's not holding back when describing the North Korean leader.

"This guy is irrational. He's nuts and not a sort of person that you'd want to have with a finger anywhere near the trigger of a nuclear weapon," he said.

The Government put a stop to the aid just in time. It could have been an awkward subject during the visit of the US Secretary of State last week, when Rex Tillerson directly asked us to cut any ties left with North Korea.

"We have called on all nations that have any kind of relations economic activity with North Korea to join us in putting pressure on the regime in Pyongyang," he told a press conference after meeting with Prime Minister Bill English.

But Mr Brownlee said withdrawing our aid wasn't likely to affect much and Mr Tillerson was likely talking about countries who continue to trade "pretty aggressively" with North Korea.

"I don't think [withdrawing] that small amount puts a lot of pressure on them," he said.

And before New Zealand considers sending money again, things will have to change dramatically.

"I think once there was some certainty about where things were going and it was totally humanitarian, we would be open to that, but we're not interested in putting funding into North Korea that props up a regime that seems to think it perfectly reasonable for them to threaten such a large percentage of the world's population," Mr Brownlee said.

Newshub.

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