Politics | North Korea

Winston Peters rejects North Korea’s threats, talks Pacific priorities and AUKUS

Yesterday North Korea warned New Zealand and other US-allied countries over “military interference” and raising tensions and instability across the Asia-Pacific.

But both North Korea and New Zealand claim each other’s actions jeopardise security of the region.

Today Foreign Minister Winston Peters rejected what he described as aggressive rhetoric.

“North Korea would better serve its people by meaningfully re-engaging with the international community through diplomacy rather than threats,” Peters said.

He said the country’s monitoring and surveillance were due to North Korea’s breaches of UN Security Council resolutions and aimed to apply pressure on North Korea to denuclearise and abandon its missile programme.

As foreign minister in the mid-2000s, Peters supported the six-party talks that aimed to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Welcoming AUKUS

However, yesterday in Papua New Guinea Peters said: “We welcome new architecture like AUKUS.”

AUKUS sets a nuclear proliferation precedent in the Pacific as Australia will be the first non-nuclear state to gain highly enriched, weapons-grade, fissile material for submarine it will buy.

Peters said New Zealand was in discussion about the potential opportunities offered under AUKUS Pillar 2. Pillar 2 has been described by New Zealand officials as non-nuclear and therefore not compromising the country’s non-nuclear stand.

However, in a Te Ao Maōri News interview with Pacific historian Marco de Jong, he said on this issue “we should be clear that any involvement means supporting nuclear deterrence”.

De Jong scrutinised the take that AUKUS provided technological benefits and clarified that the technology sharing ministers are interested in is advanced military technology including hypersonic missiles, autonomous weapons and new advances in electronic warfare.

“AUKUS pillar two technologies are designed to be interoperable with United States forces, which raises a lot of questions about information sharing. To date, there’s been no assurances that if New Zealand were to contribute with things like surveillance drones, that the information that they collect will not be fed into nuclear command control and communications infrastructure,” de Jong said.

‘Exploring’ AUKUS

AUKUS has been a controversial topic for a few years and yesterday Peters said, “while we are a long way from being invited to participate in Pillar 2′s technology sharing arrangement, as a responsible government we are exploring its economic and security benefits”.

Peters said the government was keen to hear how Pacific countries viewed the arrangement and emphasised Pacific priorities.

De Jong said, “Pacific opposition to AUKUS is based in the belief that its military focus and reliance on nuclear technologies go against Pacific peoples’ own conceptions of security,” de Jong said and said these ideas were well-articulated in the Boe declaration, Biketawa declaration and the 2050 Strategy for a Blue Pacific continent.

“They focus on the idea that climate change is the principal security threat to the region and that any security response must come from within the Pacific. AUKUS kind of runs roughshod over this. It focuses on containing China, it focuses on these military technologies, and in doing so and by neglecting the Pacific security vision, it really creates the instability that it’s professing to address.”

Discussion from leaders on the matter is likely to come up in the Pacific Leaders Forum 2024, which will be held in Tonga in late August.

Selective in crises

Peters also said in rejection of North Korea, that New Zealand upheld rule-based order through its monitoring and surveillance deployments. Peters claimed North Korea was threatening peace and stability of the country’s region in its “aggressive” rhetoric and support of Russia’s “illegal invasion of Ukraine”.

New Zealand claims to be upholding international law and liberal democratic values in opposition to humanitarian crises but are selective when it comes to which crises.

On April 19 Prime Minister Christopher Luxon was excited about the partnership between New Zealand and Philippines, which included the need to enhance both trade and defence ties. Luxon discussed the development of legal documentation with Philippines that would allow access to airports to provide humanitarian relief but reporters raised the issue of such documents allowing New Zealand to actively participate in Philippines and US military exercises, drawing this country into the South China Sea conflict.

The following week New Zealand participated in US-Philippines military exercises as an observer. While Luxon was complimentary about time spent with President Marcos , he didn’t raise any humanitarian concerns with the Philippines, and dismissed the issue raised by a reporter on whether New Zealand should work with the military of a government that “has killed so many of its own people”.