www.mfat.govt.nz www.safetravel.govt.nz
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade.
.AfricaAsia NorthChinaHong KongJapanMacaoMongoliaNorth KoreaSouth KoreaAsia South and SoutheastAustraliaEuropeLatin AmericaNorth AmericaPacific

Related links in New Zealand

Links to South Korea

Other governments' information papers

Country/territory locator

Enter the country or territory for the information paper you want. (We do not have information papers on all countries.)

World map. Africa Europe Middle East North Asia South/South East Asia Australia Pacific Latin America North America/Caribbean


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 48.8 million
Capital City Seoul
Religion Christian 29%, Buddhist 23%
Language Korean
Currency South Korean Won
Exchange Rate US$1 = KRW1,119 [16 July 2013] NZ$1 = KRW876 [16 July 2013]


Political system Presidential-style democracy with President elected for a single five-year term
National government State Council (cabinet) ministers are appointed by the President and cannot be members of the National Assembly.
National legislature National Assembly, unicameral, 245 Parliamentary seats filled by direct election; 54 distributed among parties in proportion to their share of the vote (list MPs).
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
  • Prime 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 – Kim Kwan-jin
  • Strategy and Finance – Hyun Oh-seok
  • Education – Seo Nam-soo
  • Science, ICT & Future Planning – Choi Mun-kee
  • Culture, Sports & Tourism – Yoo Jin-ryong
  • Environment – Yoon Seong-kyu
  • Unification – Ryoo Kihl-jae
  • Justice – Hwang Kyo-an
  • Health and Welfare – Chin Young
  • Security and Public Administration – Yoo Jeong-bok
  • Employment and Labour – Phang Ha-nam
  • Gender Equality and Family – Cho Yoon-sun
Main political parties Saenuri Party (previously known as Grand National Party)
Democratic United Party (DUP)
Unified Progressive Party (UPP)

Economic - (for the year ended December 2012 and 2013 forecasts)

For the year ended December 2012 and 2013 forecasts

GDP 2012 US$1,125billion (EIU estimate)

GDP per capita

2012 US$31,243 at PPP (EIU estimate)

Real GDP growth 2013 forecast 2.8% (BoK)
Exports 2012 US$548.2 billion (MKE)
Imports 2012 US$519.5 billion (MKE)
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 2012 US$25.3 billion (EIU estimate)
Inflation 2013 forecast 2.5% (BoK)
Gross external debt As at Sep 2012 US$419.4billion (BoK)

Sources: Economist Intelligence Unit, Bank of Korea, Korea International Trade Association, CIA Factbook


NZ Trade (for the year ended June 2012)

NZ Exports to Korea
NZ$1.56 billion
Main Exports Wood (20%), confidential items (12%), dairy (11%)
NZ Imports from Korea
NZ$1.81 billion
Main Imports Mineral fuels (37%), vehicles (19%), mechanical parts (8%)

Source: World Trade Atlas.

top of page


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.

top of page


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 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.  The ROK was the first developing country and former aid recipient to join the OECD in 1996.  Its hosting of the G20 Summit in November 2010 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 however, the ROK has focused on high-tech, high-value 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 economic growth. 

In 2008, then President Lee proclaimed “Low Carbon, Green Growth” as the national vision for the next 60 years.  His “Green New Deal”, which was also part of the stimulus package in response to the global economic crisis, aimed to create 956,000 new jobs in the green sector and invest 50 trillion Won (US$38.5 billion) to finance nine key projects with an environmental focus over four years.  Despite being a Non-Annex 1 country under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, 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 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, Australia and China.  Though supporting improved market access for non-agricultural goods, the ROK takes a more defensive stance on agriculture.  Its average tariff on imported agricultural goods is 53.5%, compared to 6.5% for industrial goods.

top of page


Foreign relations

The ROK has become increasingly active in multilateral fora. It joined the UN in 1991 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.

Relations with the United States continue to be a cornerstone of the ROK’s foreign, trade and defence policies.  Under the US/ROK alliance, there are around 28,500 US troops remain the peninsula to bolster the ROK’s defence against North Korea.  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), yet there is some recognition on both sides of shared mutual interests.  President Park has indicated she will 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 April and December 2012, and nuclear test in February 2013.  These followed other provocative actions by DPRK in recent years including a missile launch and nuclear test in 2009, the sinking of a ROK naval vessel, the Cheonan, and artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, both in 2010. 

The recent rocket launch and nuclear test have drawn widespread international condemnation of the DPRK for breaching UN Security Council resolutions.  The first launch also undermined the Leap Day Agreement reached by the US and DPRK in February 2012.  In the Agreement, the US agreed to provide substantial food aid in return for DPRK agreeing to a moratorium on uranium enrichment and missile testing and a return of IAEA inspectors to Yongbyon. It was hoped that this Agreement would pave the way for the resumption of the Six Party denuclearisation talks, but these are now on hold.

President Park has signalled she is open to increased engagement with DPRK, and will seek to build trust 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, and promotion of shared interests in regional and global issues. 

In 2010 then 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.

top of page


Political cooperation

High level visits in both directions are frequent.  Prime Minister John Key visited the ROK in 2010 and 2012.  During both visits, 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, military, 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$3.36 billion in the year ending December 2012.  Bilateral trade is balanced and complementary.  New Zealand’s exports to the ROK (NZ$1.55 billion) include logs, aluminium, beef, kiwifruit, dairy and seafood; imports from the ROK (NZ$1.81 billion) include 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 then President Lee officially announced the intention to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in March 2009, and negotiations are currently underway.  Refer to this website for further information on those negotiations.

Both New Zealand and the ROK are also involved in negotiations toward establishing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) FTA in the East Asian region which began in 2013.top of page


People-to-people links

There are approximately 30,000 ethnic Koreans living in New Zealand, the largest expatriate Korean community in the world on a per capita basis.  They provide a vibrant base for the bilateral relationship with several prominent members including Melissa Lee MP and golfer Lydia Ko (who is the top-ranked woman amateur golfer in the world and became the youngest person ever to win an LPGA Tour event in 2012).  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 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 and an Audiovisual Cooperation Arrangement concluded in 2005 to facilitate cooperation in a range of areas, including training.



In 2012, the ROK was New Zealand's third largest source of international students with 9,990 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. The 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.

top of page


Science and technology

There is a range of ongoing activities under a Science and Technology Cooperation Arrangement signed in 1997.  The first Focal Point Programme focused on environmental science, biotechnology, information and communication technology (ICT) and materials science.  A second Programme promoted collaboration in the fields of food innovation, renewable energy and nanotechnology.  A third 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, 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 May 2012, the ROK hosted the seventh Korea, Australia, New Zealand (KANZ) Broadband 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 ANZAC memorial at Kapyong, and at the UN Memorial Cemetery in Busan, where 34 New Zealanders are buried. 

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 defence engagement is also maintained through military exercises, ship visits, defence talks, 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 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, is currently under construction and is due for completion in 2013/14.

top of page


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

top of page

Page last updated: Monday, 09 December 2013 13:00 NZDT