NZ's role in supporting peace on the Korean Peninsula

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully (Reuters)
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully (Reuters)

New Zealand's diplomatic efforts will be an important factor in any future peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to an International Relations expert.

University of Otago international relations professor Robert Patman says as a member of the United Nations Security Council and a close friend of both China and the US, New Zealand could use its diplomatic position to serve as a bridge to align the two superpower pressures on North Korea.

Prof Patman says to date China has been reluctant to reign in its traditional communist ally.

"China, while exasperated with Kim Jong-Un's nuclear weapons programme, is not prepared to put the sort of pressure on its North Korean ally that could change the diplomatic equation in the region," Prof Patman says.

According to Prof Patman, unless China hardens its position, the North Korean leadership is likely to continue to press ahead with its nuclear arms in violation of UNSC resolutions.

But he believes New Zealand could help prompt China to reassess the "life support" it offers the North, through a mixture of diplomacy and military action.

Sixty New Zealand Defence Force personnel were involved in amphibious beach landings in South Korea in February, as part of an ongoing show of strength designed to discourage North Korean hostility.

New Zealand also has a front-row seat to the conflict through its role on the United Nations Security Council, of which the US and China are both permanent members.

Since the end of the Cold War, North Korea's weapons programme and its four nuclear tests have been the subject of heavy UN sanctions.

"New Zealand diplomacy could perhaps serve as a bridge between the US and China," Prof Patman says. "That possibility has been enhanced by the increasing close relationship between South Korea and China. North Korea is no longer the only show in town on the Korean peninsula."

The 2015 free trade agreement with South Korea, 2008 trade deal with China and increasingly close ties with the US mean New Zealand has leverage with all the major players.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) says while other major powers hold the biggest sway, New Zealand still has a key role to play.

"New Zealand is not one of the main players on the North Korean nuclear issue ... but there is an important role for other countries in supporting and, where appropriate, contributing to a coordinated international response to security issues on the Korean Peninsula."

The Republic of Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) says ever since New Zealand participated in the Korean War, it has been contributing constructively to the peace and security in the Korean Peninsula.

New Zealand has pursued a non-nuclear security policy since 1985 and is well positioned to oppose nuclear proliferation in North Korea and around the world - Prof Patman says even more so than Australia, which is seen by China as too close to Washington.

"If New Zealand can play a part in helping to deepen dialogue between the US and China, it could arguably boost counter-proliferation efforts in the world generally and in the Korean Peninsula, in particular," Prof Patman says.

"Ultimately, neither the US or China want to see the further spread of nuclear weapons, and in that sense the prospects for New Zealand making a difference in the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere have gradually increased."