New Zealand and Korea: A Close Partnership in a Complex Region

  • Rt Hon Winston Peters
Deputy Prime Minister Foreign Affairs

Good afternoon.

Welcome to Ambassadors and representatives from Embassies in Seoul, as well as Korean government officials. Greetings also to members of civil society, academia and the business community, and particular thanks to Yonsei University for hosting this event.

This is my second visit to the Republic of Korea as Minister of Foreign Affairs. As ever, Seoul is vibrant, fast-paced and brimming with life. You are a warm, welcoming and open-hearted people.

Cooperation in turbulent times, past and present

I was last here as Foreign Minister in 2007, just before the global financial crisis and just after North Korea started its nuclear testing programme. 

In the same year, we went to Pyongyang and met with North Korea’s leadership.

It was an uncertain time then and it remains an uncertain time now.

North Korea might have stopped nuclear testing but it is now regularly testing ballistic missiles in contravention of United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

And we face increased global instability and challenges to the rules based system.

Authoritarian leadership is on the rise around the world and international institutions are being challenged more than at any period since the end of World War Two.

The values New Zealand and Korea share of fairness, equality, democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law are increasingly under threat.

So the theme of this speech to you today is a call for New Zealand and Korea to recognise our common interests – and to do more together.

All like-minded countries in the Asia Pacific need to join together to defend human rights and the rules-based order, and support each other in an increasingly turbulent time.

This is why we are visiting Korea this week. To reinforce the strong ties between Korea and New Zealand, and to highlight our need to work together, to do more together, to promote our shared values and interests in a world that increasingly challenges the principles we hold dear.

We met this morning with Foreign Minister Kang, just over a year since we last met on the margins of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Singapore.

Our conversation focused on the lasting depth and breadth of friendship between Korea and New Zealand. For nearly seventy years, our two countries have enjoyed close relations in defence and security, and now in trade, science and innovation, and people-to-people exchanges.

Our nations’ friendship was first forged in shared adversity defending South Korea from the North a long time ago.

In 1950, we were one of the sixteen countries to come to Korea’s defence under the aegis of the United Nations.

New Zealand’s “coming of age”

New Zealanders have long demonstrated a commitment to regional and global security and our people have served and died in the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Malayan confrontation and the Vietnam War.

And in the last generation, we have sent our peacekeepers into Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, East Timor, the Sinai, the Golan Heights, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

We are prepared to pay the cost to defend freedom and to protect the vulnerable, but we are a people dedicated to peace. A major focus of our foreign policy and our approach to building international relationships is to strengthen peace in the Pacific, the Asia Pacific and throughout the globe.

Working hard to build peace is our shared responsibility and it is the best way to honour those who serve in uniform and those who have died in the cause of freedom.

We are also a country that in the last two generations has been through considerable disruption in our economy and our traditional relationships.

When Britain joined the European Economic Community fifty years ago we lost access to our main market and source of international capital.

We had to produce new kinds of products for export and find new customers in countries where we had very little trading history and people-to-people connections.

We rediscovered ourselves as a Pacific nation, we opened ourselves to Asia and built new relationships in our region.

Korea’s “Miracle on the Han”

As we were transforming, adapting to stand on our own two feet, so too was Korea.

Korea’s rise has been impressive and an example to the world. Your economic transformation and growth has led Korea to join the small and exclusive 30-50 club. 

To be a member you need income per capita over thirty thousand US dollars and a population greater than 50 million people.

The quality of the Korean workforce, your research and development, and your exports are second to none.

Korean creativity is also a force to be reckoned with. We can appreciate the global phenomenon that is BTS – the biggest boy band on the planet, who last month made waves at home when they visited New Zealand.

Your economy has grown spectacularly and you have strengthened freedoms and enhanced the health, welfare and quality of life of your people.

Nearly 70 years since the Korean War began, Korea is, like New Zealand, a vibrant democracy, committed to human rights and the rule of law, and dedicated unwaveringly to the cause of peace.

In our challenging global climate, when the rules-based system is under threat, we need to be prepared to protect these values. And, to do this, we need to deepen our cooperation with all like-minded friends in the Asia-Pacific.

We share much in common

New Zealand and Korea have travelled on different paths, and we have different languages and culture. But in the twenty-first century, we share more in common than we realise.

On this foundation of close friendship we can grow opportunities to do  much more together.

This morning, Minister Kang and I signed a Social Security Agreement, streamlining pension access for the 36,000 Koreans in New Zealand and the 4,000 New Zealanders living here.

Also, New Zealand’s Minister of Customs announced today the extension of eGate access to Korean nationals in New Zealand airports. This will allow the 90,000 Koreans who visit New Zealand every year to take an express passage through our passport control.

And from November this year, Air New Zealand, our national carrier, will commence direct flights from Auckland to Seoul.

Since the Korea-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement was concluded in 2015, annual two-way trade has reached NZ$4.9 billion this year. Korea is now New Zealand’s fifth largest export market.

In education, almost 8,000 Korean students are enrolled in New Zealand academic institutions. We appreciate President Moon’s initiative to establish the Next-Generation Young Leaders programme – the first delegation from New Zealand visited Korea this year.

New Zealand was pleased to announce today our North Asia Young Business Leaders Initiative, in partnership with the Asia New Zealand Foundation, which will facilitate business exchanges for young entrepreneurs between our two countries every four years.

We also collaborate in science and innovation, including in Antarctic research. In response to the threat of climate change, we are exploring opportunities with Korean business, researchers and government to build renewable energy supply chains across the Asia Pacific for hydrogen.

Our defence ties also continue to grow. We have had a bilateral Information Sharing Agreement since 2012 – the first for New Zealand outside our Five Eyes arrangements – and our Defence Materiel Cooperation Arrangement was concluded in May this year, signalling deep trust in our defence relationship.

At the largest shipyard in the world, Hyundai Heavy Industries is constructing a new supply ship for the Royal New Zealand Navy, which was formally named during a ceremony in Ulsan last week.

And, since the outset of the Korean War, New Zealand has made an ongoing contribution to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula.

Visiting the Demilitarised Zone in 2007, some of us were lucky to witness the contribution made by New Zealand Defence Force officers actively involved in monitoring the armistice since they were first deployed in 1998 under the United Nations Command.

A New Zealand P-3 aircraft is currently operating from Kadena Air Base in Japan, along with Korea and other partners, in support of monitoring United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

In these times of insecurity, we value the opportunity to contribute to the safety of a long-standing friend who faces real, immediate and constant security threats.

And we understand that peace on the Korean Peninsula is imperative to the security of our whole region.

In New Zealand’s time of greatest need this year, Korea was also ready and willing to support us.

The attacks of 15 March were a deplorable act of terror against New Zealand’s Muslim community.

We are grateful for Korea’s support following the attacks. The solidarity of the global community helped us to respond to this terror attack.

We also welcome Korea’s commitment to the Christchurch Call to Action – under which we and other global partners are working to eliminate violent extremist content online.

Cooperation in the Pacific

Cooperation amongst states is vital to achieving peace and New Zealand will attend and support Korea, as a regional leader, at your Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Forum next week.

Your New Southern Policy and New Northern Policy are forging new and lasting partnerships. Likewise, New Zealand’s Pacific Reset initiative is about partnership-building in the face of complex regional challenges.

Under the Pacific Reset, we are re-energising our engagement, lifting our strategic ambition, and putting our money where our mouth is by increasing investment in the region.

The principles and objectives of Korea’s New Southern Policy align with New Zealand’s Pacific Reset.

New economic, human and environmental threats are emerging that threaten the way of life of our Pacific Island neighbours. Climate change presents an immense challenge for the Pacific and more broadly for us all.

The increasing strategic interest from many countries around the globe in the Pacific presents opportunities, as well as risks.

And so we are keen for Korea, as a close friend and long-time partner, to join our efforts to increase engagement in support of the Pacific – and in a way that aligns with Pacific Island countries’ priorities and values.

For these reasons we are excited that Korea and New Zealand have reached an agreement for the first time, with the Pacific Islands Forum, to formally cooperate on a development project in the Pacific.

Multilateral and regional cooperation

We want a secure and prosperous Pacific; we want a secure and prosperous Asia-Pacific.

But to do this we must also strengthen the global multilateral institutions that support international cooperation.

These are the institutions and frameworks that enabled our countries to find our feet.

We can think of no other country that has benefitted as much from the international rules-based order than South Korea. As ongoing beneficiaries of the multilateral system and the rules-based order, we have not only an interest but also an obligation to uphold them.

Ban Ki-Moon’s leadership in the United Nations exemplified Korea’s commitment to global rules and the institutions that uphold them. And Foreign Minister Kang has also held very senior roles within the United Nations.

The active involvement of both our countries in the East Asia Summit, ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC demonstrates our shared commitment to dialogue and action to address the issues impacting our region.

Through our joint involvement in the Ottawa Group process, New Zealand and Korea are confronting the systemic challenges facing the World Trade Organisation.

We cannot afford to have the WTO lose its relevance or have its capacity to settle trade disputes between countries reduced.

And we must take every opportunity to forge strong and lasting multilateral and regional trade ties.

New Zealand strongly encourages Korea to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership.

It is already working for New Zealand businesses, large and small, and it will drive economic integration in our region.

Over time, more countries will join CPTPP. Early accession is to Korea’s advantage and will strengthen the rules-based system in our region.

New Zealand encourages all countries in the Asia-Pacific to think strategically about CPTPP as a new addition to the broader bedrock of global rules on which we depend.

That bedrock includes the United Nations system, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and human rights.

The rules-based system is vital to both our countries’ security and prosperity and we must work together to protect and advance it.


To conclude, let me return to call on New Zealand and Korea to recognise our common interests and to do more together.

For states like ours, reliant on the multilateral system, we live in an era of immense instability. In a volatile and unpredictable global climate, it is international rules and international cooperation that give us the best chance of strengthening peace and prosperity.

Korea and New Zealand have a long friendship. Our friendship can empower collaboration. Our shared values can fuel cooperation.

Each country must stand on its own two feet – but we can join hands at the same time.