Good evening everyone.
Ambassador Yeo, my Parliamentary colleague Melissa Lee, the Dean and members of the Diplomatic Corps, members of the Korean community and guests: It is a great pleasure to join you this evening to celebrate the Foundation Day of the Republic of Korea. Ambassador, this is the first celebration of your Foundation Day as the ambassador to New Zealand – welcome.
Just looking around tonight and chatting with you all has reminded me of the very strong friendship between our two nations, a friendship that is founded on the sacrifices and comradeship shared on the battlefields of Korea over 60 years ago.
There are veterans of the Korean War here and on behalf of us all and our Governments I especially acknowledge you and the hardships you suffered. You put your lives on the line and I thank you for your service. Some of your mates did not come home, and tonight we also remember and honour them.
It is very rewarding to know that veterans who have visited South Korea over the years have said that what they did was well worth it, seeing the great progress the country has made economically and in so many other ways during the past decades.
Like you, New Zealand has been deeply concerned by, and has strongly condemned, the behaviour of North Korea in recent months. New Zealand has repeatedly called on North Korea to stop its nuclear and missile development, and return to a meaningful dialogue to address the concerns of the international community.
As you know, the New Zealand Defence Force has for many years maintained personnel in Korea as a committed member of the United Nations Command overseeing the Armistice, and this has just been extended for two years. Although the numbers are small, it is an important deployment for the Defence Force, and highly sought-after by the young officers who are posted into those roles.
I can assure you that we are totally united with the Korean people and the international community in calling on North Korea to cease reckless actions that place at risk the peace, stability and prosperity of North Asia and beyond. New Zealand has welcomed and co-sponsored, wherever possible, UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea and will continue to support diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue.
2017 has been a busy year for our relationship. Tonight is a good time to enjoy the shared achievements and to look ahead.
The high-quality free trade agreement that now exists between New Zealand and Korea has opened new opportunities to grow the partnership between our two innovative economies.
Two-way goods and services trade is now valued at more than NZ$4 billion and it is encouraging to see businesses continue to make full use of the agreement for increased trade, investment and co-operation.
From agriculture and education to ICT, climate change and Antarctica, we work very well and successfully together.
I also want to highlight the extensive contribution of the Korean community in New Zealand.
So many Korean New Zealanders, “Kowi” as I understand they are often called, are involved in New Zealand society in the fields of business, health, government, science, academia and others. They are highly successful leaders in their chosen professional fields and in other areas of activity.
And of course both countries are very proud of the achievements of golfer Lydia Ko. Not only is she an Olympic medallist, but she serves as an excellent role model for our youth. (And I’d just like to note here that she is from my own electorate of Rodney and Gulf Harbour is her home golf club.)
We also acknowledge the many young New Zealanders who have worked as English teachers in Korea and served as cultural ambassadors.
They make a great contribution while there and then again back in New Zealand through the knowledge and understanding of Korean life and culture they can share with their peers.
New Zealand and Korea have come a long way together. We have built a modern and varied relationship and we can be very optimistic for the future in every way.
Ambassador, we acknowledge your important role, together with our Embassy in Seoul, in promoting and developing the opportunities we have. I share your hopes for the relationship. Thank you for inviting me here tonight.
Ambassador, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in the toast to His Excellency President Moon Jae-in and to the people of the Republic of Korea.