Navy Lieutenant Payton Kaiwai, who is serving as one of the armistice monitors with United Nations Command on the Korean Peninsula, near the demarcation line separating South and North Korea.
19 July 2017
How do you communicate across the border to North Korea?
Although the world may now be digitally interconnected, a New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) officer serving as one of the armistice monitors with United Nations Command on the Korean Peninsula has no choice but to deliver the message in person.
Every time he has an official message to pass on to North Korea, Navy Lieutenant Payton Kaiwai walks to within a metre of the demarcation line that splits South and North Korea, reads out the message in English and lets a translator read it in Korean.
“The North Korean soldiers stationed in the demilitarised zone stopped answering their landline four years ago,” said Lieutenant Kaiwai, who is the Assistant Joint Duty Officer in the United Nations Command Military Armistice Commission Secretariat (UNCMAC-S).
“So I have to read out the messages, surrounded by armed South Korean guards, while being filmed by armed North Korean soldiers.”
The US-led UNCMAC Secretariat monitors and supervises the 1953 Armistice Agreement that suspended hostilities between North Korea and United Nations forces defending South Korea. New Zealand and a number of countries support the Armistice Agreement through the deployment of personnel.
The NZDF has a long history of involvement in South Korea since the outbreak of war in 1950 and has contributed to the UNCMAC-S since 2003. It currently has five members monitoring the armistice and performing operational, education, liaison and corridor control functions for the UNCMAC-S.
Stationed at Camp Bonifas, which is about 400 metres south of the demilitarised zone (DMZ), Lieutenant Kaiwai works with six military personnel from the United States to help monitor part of the 250 kilometre-long DMZ separating North and South Korea.
As part of his role, Lieutenant Kaiwai helps run the education and orientation programme at Panmunjom, the truce village inside the DMZ, and helps host visiting foreign dignitaries, including military personnel, diplomats and lawmakers.
He also serves as one of the official communications conduits, passing on messages to North Korea such as those relating to the routine maintenance at Panmunjom, the use of helicopters in fighting bushfires in the DMZ and the repatriation of North Korean fishermen who were rescued recently by South Korea’s Coast Guard.
“The encounters are very formal and follow set procedures. We try to maintain a sense of regularity to avoid any issues,” he said.
Hearing competing loudspeaker broadcasts by South and North Korea along the DMZ has become part of everyday life since he started his six-month posting to the UNCMAC-S in May.
“This is my first operational deployment and it has been quite interesting,” he said.
“One of the major rewards has been the chance to work as part of a US-led multinational team and to interact and learn from people from different countries and with diverse backgrounds.”
Born and raised in Wellington, Lieutenant Kaiwai joined the Royal New Zealand Navy after finishing a law degree at Victoria University of Wellington in 2011. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in international security at Massey University.
“Through my role, I’ve been able to see the world while contributing to promoting New Zealand’s interests and developing personally and professionally.”