Within the context of increasing turbulence on the global stage, it can be challenging for countries to find shared priorities and reasons to work together.
Not so for New Zealand and South Korea.
Philip Turner, NZ’s Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, has just finished a whirlwind, nationwide speaking tour, addressing audiences in Auckland, Hawkes Bay, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. His presentation in Auckland was co-sponsored by the North Asia CAPE and the Korea NZ Business Council with support from MFAT.
Today, four years on from the signing of the NZ-Korea Free Trade Agreement - and despite escalating threats globally to international rules-based trade - New Zealand and Korea have many cross-sector economic and cultural opportunities to explore.
“The state of the NZ-Korea relationship? Pretty damn good!” said Mr Turner, highlighting an image of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern smiling with President Moon Jae-in during his two-day visit to Auckland in December 2018.
Mr Turner, who was appointed NZ’s Ambassador to Seoul (and Pyongyang) a year ago, said South Korea’s transformation from an “impoverished” country in the 1950s to “being now one of the most sophisticated, leading countries and economies in the world” is “spectacular”.
Noting that South Korea and NZ have the only two progressive, centre-left leaders in the region, Mr Turner cited our aligned economic agendas which include income-led growth, a commitment to reducing inequality and to creating more diverse and inclusive societies. Internationally, both countries are “like-minded” about democracy, the rule of law, open markets, rules-based trading agreements.
“So, what do we want to do with this relationship?” posited Mr Turner. He offered three priorities in his work as ambassador.
First, to grow our core business in the areas of trade, education, investment, tourism. Second, to “modernise the brand of New Zealand in Korea”, promoting this country’s innovation and technology expertise so we can become a business partner for Korea. In addition, Mr Turner stressed the importance of having Korean tourists return to New Zealand on multiple visits, drawn here by more than hobbits and sheep.
I love hobbits, but we need to ensure tourists are coming back twice, three times. That means building on the experiences they can have here – with our people, with eating and drinking, with adventure tourism and with Māoritanga.
Third, the ambassador aims to capitalise on the positive relationship of the two countries’ leaders, identifying more ways to align and apply their shared visions.
“Korea is known as the shrimp between two whales,” said Mr Turner. “In New Zealand, we are also shrimps - but the whales are further away.”
The synergies are strong and getting stronger. From November, Air NZ will fly direct from Auckland to Seoul - "What they are marketing is not just an airline but New Zealand as a whole" to play fast and loose, said Mr Turner. Two high-end wine festivals featuring New Zealand wineries are in the Korean calendar, and the Rugby World Cup in Japan may generate NZ tourist visits to Korea. A Kiwi alumni network of around 800 people is flourishing in Korea, and there is a similarly vibrant Korean community in New Zealand. A Korean family in west Auckland is shooting international feature films on location, and from June, Weet-Bix will be for sale in Korea.
Finally – and perhaps surprisingly - New Zealand and Korea boast strong links in the world of K-Pop, a music genre phenomenon that sweeps the world. Of the leading K-Pop idols, at least five were either born in or studied in New Zealand – including RM (Leader of boy-band sensation, BTS) and Jennie Kim and Rose of Blackpink fame.
“There are cool connections already as a result of the ‘Kowi’ community,” concluded Mr Turner. “And there are great opportunities to leverage those and to strengthen the relationship.”
What do NZ and some of the world's most famous K-Pop stars have in common? Watch this short video and find out!
Watch Ambassador Turner's Auckland presentation (approx 32 mins)
Find out more (external links)