Don’t make hasteMinister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se on Sunday discussed the issue of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba on a visit to the Caribbean country. We welcome his first meeting with his counterpart from Cuba, a long ally of North Korea, because it not only expands our diplomatic frontier but also helps reinforce diplomatic pressure on North Korea.
Among a few remaining Communist countries, Cuba carries special significance. Having been led by Fidel Castro — a hero of the world’s Communist revolution and Cuba’s spiritual leader — since 1959, the Caribbean nation has long been playing a pivotal role in leading the Non-Aligned Movement around the world. In particular, Castro has maintained a close relationship with North Korea as a first generation leader of Communist revolution like former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung did.
Thanks to the close ties, North Korea has provided Cuba with 100,000 rifles and ammunitions worth $16 million since the Soviet Union stopped aid to its ally in the 1980s. In July 2013, a North Korean ship attempted to deliver Mig-21 jet fighters and missiles to Cuba, but was blocked after the shipment was discovered in Panama.
If such a country establishes diplomatic relations with us, it will deepen the North’s isolation. Given that Iran and Uganda — both long allies to the North — recently decided to turn their backs on Pyongyang, our normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba will most likely put the North into corner.
Cuba has emerged as a “blue ocean” for us since 2014 when it restored diplomatic relations with the United States, as its economy has been growing at a faster pace than other countries in the Caribbean. At the moment, trade volume between South Korea and Cuba stands at a merger $60 million per year, but if the Cuban government succeeds in accomplishing its annual goal of a 7 percent growth, the bilateral trade amount will soon increase to $300 million a year.
But it is too early to expect both countries to establish diplomatic relations in the near future when we consider the North’s persistent efforts to thwart it. In fact, Kim Yong-chol, vice chairman of the Central Committee of North Korean Workers’ Party and a member of Political Bureau, reaffirmed amicable relations with Cuba on a May 25 visit. Castro is also known to attach great significance to Havana’s relations with Pyongyang. It is wise for the government to first focus on economic and cultural exchanges and wait until the atmosphere is ripe for the normalization rather than hastily pushing it. When you exercise prudence, nothing goes wrong.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jun. 7, Page 30