Opinion & Analysis

Why North Korea matters to New Zealand

This opinion piece was first published by Fairfax NZ on 11 September 2017.

An Asia issue that's been getting media time here is the nuclear threat from the DPRK, otherwise known as North Korea. 

If you watched the leaders' debates on TV in the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed that foreign policy barely came up. When it did, it was about Trump or North Korea — and the two in combination.

At an election panel discussion held by Bell Gully in Wellington last week, one of the panellists even described an escalation of the DPRK nuclear threat as a factor that might significantly influence the polls.

A question that hasn't been explored much is why New Zealand cares. New Zealanders obviously don't need to lie awake at night worrying a DPRK missile is about to obliterate us. So why should we be worried?

North Korea is concerning our politicians for two reasons. One is around whether New Zealand will be drawn into a conflict again, spending blood and money in someone else's war. Certainly the question line in the leaders' debates has been around what would New Zealand do if called on for troops.

But there's a second concern that isn't being talked about much in the public space.

Seven of our top 10 trading partners — including China, Japan and South Korea — are in Asia. What happens in a war? Will people still want to buy our products? What happens to the ships carrying goods to and from the region? Will shipping stop totally? What happens to the banking systems?

Events in the region also concern the growing number of New Zealanders with family ties to Asia. The last census counted nearly 130,000 New Zealand residents who had been born in China, South Korea or Japan.

The fact is that most New Zealanders have grown up in a time of unusual stability in our region. When we think about North Korea, it's mostly theoretical. Our media will play a vital role in drawing the dots for us should things, as I expect, become less stable in the region. Markets and voters loathe instability, and what happens in the markets, especially in Asia, now affects all New Zealanders.

Read the full article at Stuff.co.nz.

- Asia Media Centre