Key tones down war talk

Last updated 11:34 08/04/2013
John Key
PLAYING DOWN WAR TALK: Prime Minister John Key speaks at the opening ceremony of the annual Boao Forum in Boao, in southern China's Hainan province.

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Labour has slammed Prime Minister John Key for suggestions New Zealand could go to war with North Korea.

With New Zealand having previously supported the United Nations-backed South Korea in the Korean War, and allies the United States and Australia likely to do the same in any new conflict, Key appeared to suggest we would follow a similar path this time.

"I wouldn't want to speculate, but obviously we have got a long and proud history of coming to the support of South Korea," he said in comments reported on TV3.

"Taken to the extreme, and without interventions and resolutions to the issues, that is of course possible."

Key is in China for a week-long visit, but this morning he was playing down the comment.

He refused to say what path New Zealand would take if the situation escalated into war, saying only that it would consider its options in the event of conflict.

When questioning continued, Key moved to shut down the issue, telling reporters: "Look, I think you're just so far off the planet, don't worry about it."

But Labour leader David Shearer says Key was irresponsible.

"No one should be talking up the prospect of war on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

"In fact, the international community is focused on de-escalation and so should we."

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff agreed saying "at present it is just rhetoric and New Zealand should not be buying into its [North Korea's] game".

"John Key's response was amateurish and ill-timed," Goff said.

"He got talked into a response that was ill-judged. It is similar to his knee-jerk reaction at the time of the invasion of Iraq.

"New Zealand does not blindly follow any other country with respect to decisions about engaging in wars."

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said Key's attempt at international diplomacy was "embarrassing".

"New Zealand needs an independent foreign policy working within a UN framework, not a policy of 'wherever Uncle Sam goes so does New Zealand'," Norman said.

He said Key's comments made it harder to balance New Zealand's relationships with China and the United States.

"We shouldn't be afraid of upsetting China or the US over issues of principle, like human rights and democracy, but Key has blundered into a difficult diplomatic area while arguing an unprincipled position."

Key met with new Chinese President Xi Jinping overnight and the tense situation in North Korea was discussed.

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The isolated North Korean dictatorship has been issuing strong warnings that it could use its nuclear weapons against South Korea and the United States, prompting concerns of renewed conflict on the Korean peninsula, which has never had an official declaration of peace between the North and the democratic South after the 1950-1953 war.

"The gravity of the situation is not lost on the president," Key said.

"But also . . . they are totally committed to peace and to a peaceful outcome."

- Stuff

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