Hope out of CubaU.S. President Barack Obama began a historic visit to Cuba on Sunday. His trip carries great significance nearly on par with President Richard Nixon’s momentous visit to China, which helped pull down the Bamboo Curtain in 1972. Obama’s trip to Cuba does not simply symbolize the end of a now-defunct Communist ideology. In retrospect, China’s amazing growth also owed a lot to the normalization of diplomatic relations after Nixon’s visit to China.
Obama’s visit will most likely spark the opening of Cuba and its economic development just as Nixon’s trip to China did 44 years ago. In fact, it is expected that the number of daily passenger flights between the United States and Cuba, which now stands at 10, will soar to more than 110. After suffering excruciating economic distress from the U.S. government’s economic sanctions over the last five decades, Cuba has finally found a stepping stone to end its economic isolation.
On Obama’s part, the trip also has a profound meaning after he struck an epoch-making deal with the Communist country toward reconciliation. In his 2012 campaign for re-election, Obama pledged to meet with leaders of rogue states, including North Korea, Iran and Cuba, without any conditions in order to improve relations with all of them. With this visit, Obama can brag about his diplomatic achievements with the two of them — Iran and Cuba. Unfortunately, North Korea can’t join that list.
North Korea must learn a lesson from Obama’s trip to Cuba — more specifically from the Cuban style of reconciliation. The North and Cuba have maintained brotherly ties for decades with the Soviet Union holding them together. But the two nations took quite different paths. While Pyongyang chose to move toward nuclear armaments, the Fidel Castro government took a denuclearization path. Despite a chronic scarcity of electricity in the country, Havana shied away from building a nuclear reactor because it was well aware that if it took such a reckless path in the backyard of Uncle Sam, it could not ensure the survival of its regime. As the history of Cuba suggests, North Korea must realize that it can sustain its regime without nuclear weapons.
Our government must exert efforts to turn the Obama administration’s attention back to the Korean Peninsula to resolve the thorny nuclear issues. If our government sits on its hands, the peninsula can be easily forgotten amid the heated presidential race in the U.S. at the end of this year.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 21, Page 34