By sheer happenstance, Foreign Minister Winston Peters was in Beijing yesterday at the historic time that China was grappling with the fallout from the cancellation of the US-North Korea Summit.

US President Donald Trump's decision to cancel the summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un wasn't entirely unexpected.

In a letter to Kim, Trump cancelled the meeting with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader citing "tremendous anger and open hostility" in a recent statement from North Korea.

Trump said it was "inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting".


So far, relatively anodyne.

But what would have raised concerns — including with Peters who previously interceded with North Korea in a prior period when he was NZ's Foreign Minister — was Trump's reflection that while the North Koreans talk about their nuclear capabilities, "ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used".

The North Korean situation was already high on the agenda for Peters' formal meeting in Beijing at 3.30pm NZT yesterday with his counterpart Wang Yi.

Inevitably, Wang's focus would have been distracted by Trump's move.

The Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister had been in Washington DC in the middle of the week.

Wang had then urged the US to "take the historic opportunity" and go to the scheduled summit which was due to take place in Singapore on June 12.

But both sides had ratcheted up the tension. North Korea labelled military drills held by the US and South Korea as a "provocative military ruckus" and labelled US Vice-President Mike Pence a "political dummy".

North Korea had also blown up a nuclear testing facility in front of journalists.


But while Kim has been hosted in China and South Korea — the US and the DPRK cannot seem to bridge their hostilities.

In reality, while New Zealand is very much a junior player in this sphere, Peters does have street cred where others don't.

Reputedly he is one of the few Western politicians to have struck up personal relations with the North Korean leaders in a trip behind the demilitarised zone in 2007 when he was Helen Clark's Foreign Minister.

At that stage he was acting as an intermediary between the DPRK and US Republican Secretary of State Condi Rice.

Late last year it appeared as if then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might request Peters to again perform such a service as an interlocutor.

That prospect fell away when Trump and Kim engaged.


Could the prospect of a Peters play be revived?

In April, Peters had floated the prospect of ultimately holding free trade negotiations with the DPRK, saying NZ was talking to North Korea through the back door, through the United States. "This is dramatic stuff and we need to do that" he reportedly said.

Maybe that back door should also embrace China?

Earlier this week, Peters told the nation's diplomats he wanted New Zealand to be seen as having the "best small country foreign service in the world".

He pointed to changes in the geopolitical order in the Asia-Pacific, especially the consequences of China's growing strategic weight, Japan's ongoing importance, and the interplay with the United States' crucial role in underpinning the region's stability.

"As well, the South China Sea territorial disputes and the future of the Korean Peninsula are big moving issues which could swing from good outcomes [to] long running polarising stand-offs."


New Zealand has a role to play here — and so does Peters.