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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Herald on June 7)

All News 07:29 June 07, 2016

Korea-Cuba relations
Yun's visit should provide momentum for official ties

Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se's landmark visit to Cuba, with which South Korea lacks official ties, is timely for several reasons.

First, Yun's participation in the summit of Association of Caribbean States countries will certainly help South Korea foster closer relations with the region, which has remained low in its foreign policy agenda.

The ACS, founded in 1995, now comprises 25 countries in the region, and Yun joined the gathering as an observer, a status South Korea has been given since 1998.

Yun met the ACS Secretary-General Alfonso Munera Cavadia and the foreign ministers of Costa Rica and Guatemala, the former and incumbent chairs of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation, in which South Korea is one of 38 members.

Yun's engagement with the leaders from the region should not be underestimated, yet his activities would have not attracted as much attention had the place not been Havana.

Yun, who held talks with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, is the highest-ranking South Korean official to visit Cuba, which has maintained close relations with North Korea. Cuba recognized South Korea in 1949, one year after the establishment of a republican government in Seoul, but severed official ties after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. The state-run trade agency KOTRA opened a local office in Havana in 2005, but other government and private-sector exchanges remained low.

Cuba established formal ties with North Korea in 1960, and the two countries have since maintained close relations, sharing communist rule and anti-Americanism. Cuban leader Fidel Castro and the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung were close comrades and friends.

So the breakdown of a Cold War-era legacy between South Korea and Cuba could be another setback for North Korea, which is under U.N.-led sanctions over its nuclear and missile provocations. Its Cold War allies and major patrons China and Russia have also joined the sanctions.

Yun's historic visit to Havana comes on the heels of Park's trip to Africa, where she forged agreements that should have upset North Korea. Uganda, a longtime ally of North Korea, agreed to cut bilateral military and security cooperation, and Ethiopia expressed support for the South Korean government’s efforts to stop the North's nuclear weapons program.

Last month, Park became the first South Korean president to visit Iran, another country close to North Korea. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sided with Park's position on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Normalization of official relations between South Korea and Cuba would certainly further tighten the noose around the neck of the North, which has already been showing signs of choking under the harshest-ever sanctions over its weapons of mass destruction.

Yun, who first mentioned his intention to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba in February last year, said that the Seoul government was very interested in formal ties with Cuba and it had been making many efforts in that direction. We believe that his historic visit was the result of those efforts. The recent decision of the U.S. to normalize ties with Cuba could also encourage Havana to improve relations with South Korea.

But given the long friendly ties between North Korea and Cuba which date back to Fidel Castro and Kim Il-sung, the day when Seoul and Havana form diplomatic ties may not come easily or quickly. This is why Yun and his deputies should make due moves to follow up on the minister's groundbreaking visit.

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