S. Korea establishes diplomatic ties with Cuba, a longtime comrade of Pyongyang

Posted on : 2024-02-15 17:22 KST Modified on : 2024-02-15 17:22 KST
Cuba becomes the 193rd country with which South Korea has diplomatic relations
The flag of Cuba. (Getty Images Bank)
The flag of Cuba. (Getty Images Bank)

South Korea established diplomatic relations with Cuba on Wednesday. The move is likely to have significant ramifications because Cuba is a long-standing ally of North Korea, with which it has had diplomatic relations since 1960.

“Our country reached an agreement with Cuba to establish ambassador-level diplomatic relations between our two countries through the exchange of official diplomatic letters between our delegations to the UN in New York on Wednesday,” South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press release that evening.

Cuba becomes the 193rd country with which South Korea has diplomatic relations.

Cuba, which is well-known for its fraternal relations with North Korea, initially established diplomatic relations with South Korea shortly after the Republic of Korea government was established in 1948.

But after Fidel Castro came to power in a revolution, Cuba severed ties with South Korea and established them with North Korea in 1960. Cuba and North Korea have maintained close relations ever since, with Miguel Díaz-Canel, then the president of Cuba’s Council of State, visiting the North to meet leader Kim Jong-un in 2018.

An official from the South Korean Foreign Ministry cautioned against reading too much into the development, saying, “It would be hard to say how Cuba-North Korea relations will be affected by forming diplomatic ties with Cuba.”

“Our establishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba, the only country without such ties in the Caribbean, Central America and South America, marks an important turning point in strengthening our diplomacy in the region. We expect it will help us further expand our diplomatic horizons as a global pivotal state,” the Foreign Ministry said.

“By laying the institutional groundwork for expanding bilateral economic cooperation and helping Korean companies do business in Cuba, establishing diplomatic relations is expected to help expand actual cooperation between our two countries and to enable us to provide systematic consular assistance to Koreans who are visiting Cuba.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, around 14,000 Koreans visited Cuba each year. Trade with Cuba stood at US$14 million in exports and US$7 million in exports in 2022.

Some 1,100 descendants of Koreans are believed to be living in Cuba at present. Those ethnic Koreans migrated from Mexico to Cuba during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea in 1921.

South Korea has been working steadily to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. In 2016, Yun Byung-se became the first South Korean foreign minister to visit the island nation.

Korea had proposed formalizing diplomatic ties with Cuba under President Kim Dae-jung in 2000 and again proposed forming consular relations under President Lee Myung-bak in 2008. President Yoon Suk-yeol’s first foreign minister, Park Jin, renewed the proposal for formal diplomatic ties in a meeting with Cuba’s vice foreign minister at an international conference held in Guatemala in May 2023.

“Our two countries have been expanding exchange and cooperation in nonpolitical areas, including culture, person-to-person exchange and development cooperation. Another apparent factor behind the establishment of diplomatic relations is the recent spread of friendly attitudes between our two nations through vibrant cultural exchange,” the Foreign Ministry said.

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

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