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flag of Republic of Korea.

Republic of Korea (ROK)

Republic of Korea overview

Relations with New Zealand

Key facts


Official Name Republic of Korea (ROK)
Land Area 99,313 sq km
Population 50 million
Capital City Seoul
Religion Christian 29%, Buddhist 23%
Language Korean
Currency South Korean Won
Exchange Rate US$1 = KRW1019 [as of 14 July 2014]


Political system Presidential-style democracy with President elected for a single five-year term
National government Saenuri Party. State Council (cabinet) ministers appointed by President are not normally members of the National Assembly.
National legislature National Assembly, unicameral, four-year term, 246 seats filled by direct election; 54 distributed among parties in proportion to their share of the vote (list MPs). Saenuri Party currently holds 147 seats while the Democratic Party holds 126 seats. The Speaker is Chung Ui-hwa.
Last election

Presidential – 19 December 2012: National Assembly – 11 April 2012

Next election due

Presidential – December 2017 :National Assembly – April 2016.

Head of State President - Park Geun-hye.
Head of Government President - Park Geun-hye.
Key Ministers
  • rime Minister – Chung Hong-won
  • Foreign Affairs – Yun Byung-se
  • Trade, Industry and Energy – Yoon Sang-jick
  • Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs – Lee Dong-phil
  • National Defence –Han Min-gu
  • Strategy and Finance (also deputy PM) – Choi Kyung-hwan
  • Education – Hwang Woo-yea
  • Science, ICT & Future Planning – Choi Yang-hee
  • Environment – Yoon Seong-kyu
  • Unification – Ryoo Kihl-jae
  • Justice – Hwang Kyo-an
  • Health and Welfare – Chin Young
  • Employment and Labour – Lee Ki-kweon
  • Gender Equality and Family – Kim Hee-jung Oceans and Fisheries – Lee Ju-young
Main political parties Saenuri Party (previously known as Grand National Party)
Democratic United Party (DUP)
Unified Progressive Party (UPP)

Economic -

GDP 2013 US$1,304 billion

GDP per capita

2013 US$31,967 at PPP

Real GDP growth 2013 3%
Exports 2013 US$560 billion
Imports 2013 US$516 billion
Main exports
ships, petroleum products, semiconductors, motor cars and vehicles, liquid crystal devices, car parts, mobile phones, home appliances, steel products, telephone sets
Current account 2013 US$70 billion surplus
Inflation 2013 forecast 1.3%
Unemployment rate May 2014 3.6%

Source: Stats NZ

NZ Trade (for the 12 months to June 2013)

NZ Exports to Korea
NZ$1.585 billion goods; NZ$416 million services
Main Exports NZ$1.585 billion goods; NZ$416 million services
NZ Imports from Korea
NZ$1.9 billion goods; NZ$162 million services
Main Imports Mineral fuels, motor vehicles

Source: Stats NZ

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Republic of Korea overview


The Korean Peninsula was governed by a number of Korean dynasties for more than a millennium until annexed by Japan in 1910 following the Russo-Japanese War, a legacy that still impacts on relations between both Koreas and Japan.  Japan’s colonial rule over Korea ended when Japan was defeated in 1945.  Korea’s liberation coincided with the start of the Cold War during which American and Soviet forces agreed that their zones of occupation would meet at the 38th parallel.  This became the dividing line between North and South Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the Republic of Korea (ROK) respectively, on independence in 1948.  On 25 June, 1950, the DPRK invaded the ROK.  Following a United Nations’ call on member nations to support the ROK, a 16-member coalition undertook the first collective action under the United Nations Command.  Korean War hostilities ended on 27 July 1953 with the signing of an Armistice Agreement.  A Military Demarcation Line in the centre of a 4km-wide De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) has served as the de-facto border since then.

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Political situation

The institutions of liberal democracy have been consolidated in the ROK since it held its first democratic elections in 1987, with the degree of pluralism in politics, civil society and the media placing the ROK among the most democratic countries in Asia. 

Current President Park Geun-hye took office on 25 February 2013 with 51.6% support.  She is the ROK’s first woman President, and will serve a single five year term. The daughter of military President Park Chung-hee, she ran as the Saenuri Party candidate, which she had previously represented in the National Assembly.  Her Presidential election campaign emphasised the development of Korea’s social structure to a level commensurate with its economic success, by widening welfare support, fostering small and medium enterprises, and leading a new era of economic growth based on a “creative economy” where ideas, technological innovations and scientific prowess support economic growth.  Park also pledged to be open to engagement with North Korea, while maintaining a firm stance against its provocations.


Economic situation

The ROK is assuming a global reach and impact commensurate with its status as the world’s fifteenth largest economy (by nominal GDP).  The ROK was the first developing country and former aid recipient to join the OECD.  Its inclusion in the G20 was further confirmation that the country has arrived as a middle power.

The ROK’s rapid economic development has been export-led, having initially inserted itself into the world market in a number of heavy industrial sectors by dint of competitive firms supported by low-cost labour.  Increasingly, the ROK has focused on high-tech industries including electronics, semiconductors, shipbuilding and automobiles.  Successive governments nurtured the development of chaebol (family-run conglomerates), such as Samsung, Hyundai, and LG, which have dominated the economy since the 1970s. 

The ROK rebounded strongly from the global financial crisis in 2008-9. The Government’s economic stimulus measures, a sharp and sustained rebound in exports, the influence of the Chinese economy and the benefit of experience from the 1997 Asian crisis have all been credited as reasons for the ROK’s impressive performance.  However in 2011/2012 the ROK economy faced some challenges including slowing exports and consumer spending.  Household debt and downturns in the construction and property markets have also emerged as challenges to financial stability.  In early 2014, President Park announced a Three Year Plan for Economic Innovation based on three strategies: fair and efficient economy (reform the public sector, correct unfair business practices in the private sector especially those harming small- and medium-sized enterprises); growth through innovation (promote a creative economy, develop overseas markets); balance between exports and imports (stimulate domestic consumption). 

South Korea leads the way in Asia being the first country to introduce a greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme (ETS), from 2015.  The ETS is designed to help reduce the country’s emissions of harmful gases by 30% by 2020, green its fossil fuel dependent industries and foster clean technology innovation.  Despite being a non-Annex 1 country, the ROK has signed on to climate change commitments.

With its economic success founded on access to world markets, the ROK is a proponent of free trade agreements (FTAs).  The ROK has FTAs with Australia, Canada, Chile, Singapore, India, ASEAN, and the European Free Trade Association (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, Switzerland), the EU, Peru, and the USA, meaning the ROK and its FTA partners account for nearly half of world economic output.  It is negotiating FTAs with other countries including New Zealand, Japan and China.  Though supporting improved market access for non-agricultural goods, the ROK takes a more defensive stance on agriculture

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Foreign relations

The ROK has become increasingly active in multilateral fora. It joined the UN in 1991 (at the same time as North Korea) and OECD in 1996, and hosted the APEC Summit in 2005.  It has been active on the international stage including hosting the G20 Leaders’ Summit in November 2010, the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) in November 2011 and the second Nuclear Security Summit in March 2012. The ROK holds a non-permanent member seat on the UN Security Council for 2013 – 2014.  Its former foreign minister Ban Ki-moon is serving as UN Secretary-General.

Relations with the United States continue to be a cornerstone of the ROK’s foreign, trade and defence policies, with the ROK reliant on the US for several key aspects of its security.  Around 28,500 US troops remain on the peninsula.  Economic and political links with China are of growing importance; China is the main destination for Korean investment and ROK’s largest trading partner.  Attitudes towards Japan are affected by the legacy of Japan’s colonial rule of the ROK (1910-45), which from time to time overshadows considerable shared interests.  President Park is taking steps to strengthen ROK’s ties in Asia, especially with ASEAN members and India.

Managing relations with North Korea (DPRK) is a major issue for the ROK.  Inter-Korean relations remain tense following DPRK’s two satellite launches using ballistic missile technology in 2012, and a third nuclear test in February 2013.  These followed a series of other provocative actions by DPRK in recent years including the sinking of a ROK naval vessel, the Cheonan, and artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, both in 2010. 

The North’s missile launches and nuclear tests have drawn widespread international condemnation for breaching UN Security Council resolutions. These actions have also led to the breaking off of the so-called Six Party Talks (among the two Koreas, US, China, Russia and Japan) to end the North’s nuclear weapons programme.

Through her policy of “trustpolitik” President Park has signalled she is open to increased engagement with DPRK, and will seek to build confidence between the divided countries, but without compromising on security issues. 


Relations with New Zealand


New Zealand’s bilateral relationship with the ROK is founded on strong political, economic, and security links going back to the Korean War.  Diplomatic relations were established in 1962 and a resident Embassy opened in Seoul in 1971.  In recent years the relationship has deepened through engagement in such areas as economics and trade, people-to-people links, film and culture, education, science and technology, defence and promotion of shared interests in regional and global issues. 

In 2010, President Lee Myung-bak and Prime Minister Key designated 2012 a “Year of Friendship” to mark the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations. A range of commemorative activities were staged in both countries in 2012 to mark the anniversary including cultural performances, business and academic exchanges and high level visits.

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Political cooperation

High level visits in both directions are frequent.  Following previous visits in 2010 and 2012, Prime Minister John Key visited the ROK in July 2013 to meet with the new President Park Geun-hye and attend commemorations marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.  During the visit, leaders reaffirmed the strength, vibrancy and breadth of the relationship built on strong historic ties, shared values and mutual commitment to regional peace and security.

There are also a range of ministerial-level and officials-level meetings.  These include consultations between Foreign Ministers as well as regular foreign policy, economic, treasury, defence, customs, forestry, and agriculture consultations.  Strong political and parliamentary links have been built up through a Prime Minister's Fellowship Programme and parliamentary exchanges. 


Economics and trade

The ROK is New Zealand’s fifth largest bilateral trading partner with two-way merchandise trade totalling NZ$3.485 billion in the 12 months to June 2013.  Bilateral trade is balanced and complementary.  New Zealand’s exports to the ROK (NZ$1.585 billion) include logs, aluminium, beef, kiwifruit, dairy and seafood; imports from the ROK (NZ$1.9 billion) include refined oil and, capital and consumer items such as cars, electronic equipment and machinery.

Trade between the ROK and New Zealand has grown four-fold since 1990 but there is scope to expand these ties.  Following a preliminary study, Prime Minister Key and President Lee officially announced the intention to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in March 2009.  After a hiatus, negotiations have resumed and are expected to conclude this year.   

Both New Zealand and the ROK are also involved in negotiations toward establishing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) FTA in the Asia-Pacific region and Korea has indicated an interest in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) grouping in the future.

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People-to-people links

There are approximately 30,000 Koreans living in New Zealand, according to census 2013.  They provide a vibrant base for the bilateral relationship with several prominent members including Melissa Lee MP and golfer Lydia Ko.  A small New Zealand community exists in the ROK, including more than 1,500 English-language teachers.

As of 2013, the ROK is New Zealand’s seventh largest market in terms of visitor numbers (50,000) and seventh largest source of visitor expenditure. There is a popular Working Holiday Scheme between the two countries whereby 1,800 young Koreans and New Zealanders can work in the other country for up to a year.  Sister City Agreements have been concluded between several cities, including Auckland and Busan, and Christchurch and Seoul’s Songpa District.



Collaboration exists between the New Zealand and Korean film industries.  Several Korean films have been partially made or post-produced in New Zealand.  A Film Co-production Agreement was signed in 2008 following an earlier Audiovisual Cooperation Arrangement (2005) to facilitate cooperation in a range of areas, including training.



In 2013, the ROK was New Zealand’s third largest source of international students with 8,452 Koreans studying at New Zealand schools and tertiary institutions. Korean alumni links stretch back to the estimated 300 Koreans who studied or trained in New Zealand in the 1960s and 1970s under the Colombo Plan.  Bilateral education cooperation is strong and comprehensive ranging from sister-school and institutional relationships to education policy dialogue. An Education Cooperation Arrangement was signed in 2009 to deepen the relationship at the policy level and the first New Zealand-ROK Joint Policy Committee on Education was held in Wellington in March 2010.

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Science and technology

There is a range of ongoing activities under a Science and Technology Cooperation Arrangement signed in 1997.  A series of Focal Point Programmes have focused on areas such as environmental science, biotechnology, materials science, food innovation, renewable energy and nanotechnology.  The current programme, with a focus on green growth, Antarctic research, and new medicines and medical applications, was announced in June 2011.  One notable joint research project to come out of the first Programme has been the robotics for elderly care collaboration between the University of Auckland and its ROK partner, the Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI).

Information and communications technology (ICT) is another area of collaboration.  The ROK is said to be the “most wired country in the world” and a global leader in the development and commercialisation of new technologies, while New Zealand has capabilities in research, software design and leveraging off high-technology.  In July 2014, New Zealand hosted the regular Korea, Australia, New Zealand (KANZ) Technology Summit, which brought together ministers, senior officials and business leaders from the three countries’ ICT sectors to discuss areas of common interest and commercial opportunities.



A defence relationship has developed out of New Zealand’s involvement in the Korean War.  Around 6,000 New Zealanders served in Korea, 45 of whom lost their lives.  Groups of New Zealand veterans and their families visit the ROK each April for commemorative ceremonies in Seoul, the Kapyong battle site, and at the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, where 34 New Zealanders are buried.  A contingent of veterans visited the ROK in July 2013 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice.

New Zealand continues to support efforts to bring peace and security to the Korean Peninsula as a member of the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission (UNCMAC).  New Zealand contributes through its Defence Attaché in Seoul, as well as three New Zealand Defence Force personnel deployed to the UNCMAC.  A high level of bilateral defence engagement is maintained through involvement in military exercises, ship visits, defence talks, multilateral peacekeeping operations and academic exchanges.


Regional and multilateral linkages

The strong ROK-New Zealand bilateral relationship provides a sound foundation on which to enhance collaboration in regional and international settings such as the East Asia Summit, APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum, and the UN.  The ROK is also a participant in the annual Pacific Islands Forum Post-Forum Dialogue and contributes ODA to the Pacific Island region.

New Zealand and the ROK also work together closely on Antarctic issues.  Both countries are consultative parties to the Antarctic Treaty, have signed the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, and are members of the Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).  In August 2012, New Zealand and the ROK signed an Agreement on Antarctic Cooperation to facilitate cooperation on Antarctic policy, scientific research, and logistical activities.  The ROK’s new research base in the Ross Sea Region, Jang Bogo Station, opened in early 2014.

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Travel advice

The Safetravel website has comprehensive travel information including advice on the safety of travel to South Korea .



Schedule of recent high-level New Zealand visits to the ROK

Schedule of recent high-level ROK visits to New Zealand

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Page last updated: Wednesday, 30 July 2014 11:27 NZST