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North Korea: Prime Minister Christopher Luxon announces New Zealand will increase efforts to monitor sanctions violations

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Christopher Luxon speaks to the media while on a trade delegation trip to Japan

The coalition Government is increasing the frequency and type of assets New Zealand sends to monitor violations of sanctions against North Korea.

Speaking to New Zealand media in Japan, Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) ships would be sent to North Asia for the first time and the frequency of aircraft deployments would be increased.

“This is a real uplift in the type of assets we are deploying to support this important mission, one that is vital for upholding the stability of the Indo-Pacific.”

Luxon said New Zealand was proud of its involvement in the United Nations (UN) Security Council regime, a UN body focused on international peace and security that “peacefully” applied pressure on North Korea to denuclearise and abandon its ballistic missile capabilities.

“These deployments help detect and deter actions that directly contravene United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea, such as ship-to-ship transfers of illicit material at sea,” he said.

The HMNZS Aotearoa will conduct “replenishment” operations in the international waters of North Asia in the second half of 2024 and in 2025.

An Anzac-class frigate would be deployed in 2026 and a P8 aircraft would also deploy twice a year during 2025 and 2026.

The naval assets would operate from Yokosuka naval base. The aircraft would operate from the Kadena air base.

Defence Force plane troubles

Luxon described the unreliability of the Defence Force plane he uses as “incredibly frustrating”. On Sunday, the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) plane, a Boeing 757, broke down, forcing the Prime Minister to book a commercial flight to Japan.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon getting a tour of the Yokosuka Naval Base in Tokyo, Japan. Photo /  Prime Minister's office
Prime Minister Christopher Luxon getting a tour of the Yokosuka Naval Base in Tokyo, Japan. Photo / Prime Minister's office

He said it was important for the Government to decide whether to replace the plane because “no Government wants to be seen to be spending money on itself”.

“We can keep kicking the can down the road and it’s really difficult. New Zealand is in a really difficult place fiscally and financially at the moment.

“I think the public of New Zealand have seen the incidences over the past five years or so, and the consequences of when you don’t face up to those decisions.”

Luxon said there was always a “plan B and plan C” with his travel plans for such situations. The Defence Force had done an exceptional job to ensure the maintenance on the aircraft was done well, he said.

“I think it’s right, irrespective of who’s in power, ultimately there will be successive Governments of successive colours that actually need access to a reliable aircraft that can actually take them around to do trade.

“We are a country that needs to trade with the world and therefore we need to be able to use it as a tool of trade.”

This afternoon, Defence Minister Judith Collins confirmed the plane, which broke down on Sunday, had been fixed and was now being flown to Japan and was expected to transport the delegation back to New Zealand at the end of the visit.

Collins described it as a “minor miracle”, having earlier said there were “lots of fingers and toes crossed” that it wouldn’t malfunction again on the return trip.

Like Luxon, Collins was putting in a strong sales pitch for upgrading the 757s. In a select committee today, she referenced how almost 100 trips had been made in the last three months using one of the two planes – the other has been undergoing maintenance but would be usable from next month.

Only one of those trips required a change of the flight plan because of a malfunction.

Defence Minister Judith Collins argued the planes to much more than just transport the Prime Minister. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Defence Minister Judith Collins argued the planes to much more than just transport the Prime Minister. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Defence Force chief Air Marshal Tony Davies, who joined Collins in the select committee, said the existing 757 replacement deadline of 2028-2030 might have to be brought forward as the 33-year-old planes were “really showing their age”.

“I think we’re pretty keen to make sure that not only the Prime Minister but delegations, which was so important for us at the moment, getting out in the world, that we do have the right kit and the right ability to do that as well as moving our troops around,” Collins said.

Any Government spending on new planes would likely form part of the Defence Capability Plan, which would outline the Government’s defence spending for the next 15 years. Collins had received a draft of the plan and had signalled she would release it in September or October.

However, she clarified Cabinet had not yet approved the plan: “I don’t have any extra money in defence, so we’ve got to find a way of doing this.”

Previous Governments had been wary of the optics of spending money to upgrade the planes often used by the Prime Minister for international visits.

Collins said she was aware any proposal to buy new planes would come during tough economic times.

“Obviously, we have to show value for money.”

Tour of Japan

Luxon is today putting the plane problems in the past, and pushing ahead with a busy schedule in Japan.

This morning, he attended a commercial deal signing that will see Rocket Lab send 10 satellites to space for Japanese company Synspective.

He then went to Costco, where he sampled various New Zealand products for sale in the megastore, including salmon, kiwifruit, apples and cookies.

This afternoon, Luxon will turn his attention to defence, with a tour of the Yokosuka Naval Base, followed by a meeting with Japanese Defence Minister Minoru Kihara.

Luxon is also due to meet his Japanese counterpart on Wednesday.

Both Japan and New Zealand are weighing up what Pillar II of the Aukus defence agreement between Australia, the UK and US could look like, and how they may be involved.

New Zealand continues to walk a tightrope, weighing up how taking a harder line on defence would affect its critical trade relationship with China.

The business delegation Luxon is travelling with has split up to attend various industry-sector events.

Delegates will only be able to spend two, rather than three full days in Japan due to the Defence Force plane breaking down in Papua New Guinea, en route to Japan.

Luxon took off for Japan in a commercial flight as soon as plane issues emerged, enabling him to largely stick to his programme.

The delegation got to Japan on an Auckland to Tokyo Air New Zealand flight, diverted to Brisbane, to collect the group. They arrived on Monday night.

Journalists received Government assistance for travel costs to Japan when the NZDF plane broke down in Papua New Guinea.

Jenée Tibshraeny is the Herald’s Wellington business editor, based in the parliamentary press gallery. She specialises in government and Reserve Bank policymaking, economics and banking. She is travelling with the group to Japan.