Winston Peters asked for Government cash to send kapa haka group to North Korea

NZ First's Shane Jones says Māori culture has a "place to play" in international diplomacy but National's Gerry Brownlee isn't convinced sending a kapa haka group with Winston Peters to North Korea would do much to solve their "aggressive foreign policy".

A former National MP with connections in North Korea wants Government cash to send a Māori cultural group there and has suggested the foreign minister could accompany them.

Ross Meurant, a former MP with diplomatic connections stretching across the Middle East, Morocco and North Korea, has high hopes an invitation to send a kapa haka group to an arts festival in North Korea in April might be an opportunity for the Government to "build bridges" in the reclusive state.

Peters has travelled to North Korea in the past and in his first interview in the role he said he doesn't see North Korea as "an utterly hopeless case".

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Meurant thinks the art festival could open doors to North Korea and be a good opportunity for Peters to visit.

Jones, minister for regional economic development, said he wasn't sure if the "New Zealand pukana" would have any effect on the North Korean leader and he had no intentions of heading over there himself.

"I always found Māori culture was a great way of breaking down iceiness."

Whether Peters goes or not was up to him but Jones said "in the event we do any major international diplomacy, yea, I think Māori culture's got a place to play".

However, Brownlee said while culture can bring nations together, "sport does as well".

"In the end you've got a pretty aggressive foreign policy coming out of North Korea, some fairly strong comments coming out of the US, great worry in both Japan and South Korea. I doubt a kapa haka group is going to solve any of those problems," he said.

Asked whether the All Blacks could be useful in building relations between New Zealand and North Korea, National leader Bill English said, "I don't think we'd have anyone to play".

Meurant has visited North Korea twice in the last two years where he was involved in marine science work with a North Korean ministry.

At the time Meurant alerted then-prime minister John Key's office of his travel plans because he wasn't sure what to expect.

"It's different but not as bad as they say."

His second visit was purely a holiday but while he was there an invitation was extended to "build bridges beyond transferring food technology experts to set up a culture group for an arts festival in April next year".

Meruant has a long-standing relationship with activist Tame Iti, who is involved in the arts, and Maori Party president Tukoroirangi Morgan.

The three of them want to send a group of 15 to North Korea but to do so they need about $30,000.

Meurant wants to know if Peters can "release some arts money to help send this group to North Korea".

The arts festival is a "half-open doorway" and an opportunity to "build bridges, not blow them up" and open doors to North Korea, he said.

Iti would likely go with the group - Morgan and Meurant would meanwhile work in the background to get it off the ground. 

"My obligation is to fund an airfare for a group of about 15 total to North Korea, the costs in North Korea will be picked up by the Government or somebody."

Acting Prime Minister Kelvin Davis said he wasn't aware of the details and wasn't sure sending a cultural group to North Korea was "appropriate" given the situation over there.


Peters travelled to North Korea last time he was foreign minister, under Helen Clark's Labour government.

Back in 2007, a number of people thought New Zealand could help dissuade the regime to give up its nuclear development programme, for substantial economic development as a compensation, or as an incentive, Peters said.

Peters' trip did not achieve this, but it was worth the try.

However, he did manage to secure safe harbour for 97,000 birds that transit North Korea in their migration to New Zealand.

"Maybe we can shoot higher this time and maybe we'll be successful," Peters said in October.

"We need to better understand that region and make our contribution, albeit as a small country but an informed one."

Peters is on his way back from Manila in the Philippines where he has been attending the East Asia Summit with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

While there, he met twice with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and there's been suggestions their talks were about North Korea. However a more likely scenario is their talks focused on the Myanmar crisis.

 - Stuff