Closer connections

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Closer connections

The United States has reached out to Cuba. The Barack Obama administration has said it will lift travel and money transfer bans on Cuban-Americans and allow U.S. telecommunications companies to do business in Cuba.

Washington has maintained an anti-Cuba policy for the past 47 years, but the Obama administration removed a key part of the policy earlier this week.

It is perhaps the most historic event initiated by the U.S. president so far. From conflict and containment, U.S. diplomacy is changing to reconciliation and engagement.

Ever since the victory in 1959 of the revolution led by Fidel Castro, Cuba has been a thorn in the side of the United States. To overturn the Castro government, the Central Intelligence Agency orchestrated the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. The United States came to the brink of war over the Soviet Union’s deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba in the early 1960s.

Washington imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in 1962, and the measure has been maintained long after the end of the Cold War, worsening the country’s isolation and economic crisis. The policy has failed to incite political or economic change in Cuba.

Under existing containment restrictions, it was impossible for Cuba to undertake democratization and reform, the Obama administration appears to think, which is why it is taking a fresh approach.

Under the new policy, 1.5 million Cuban-Americans previously allowed only one two-week visit to Cuba every three years will now be allowed to freely travel to Cuba.

In addition, U.S. companies will be allowed to work with Cuban firms on Internet, mobile and satellite communications businesses. The idea is to change Cuba by lifting travel bans and opening up broadcasting and communications industries. We might go as far as to call it the U.S. version of Korea’s Sunshine Policy.

For Cuba, the move signals the beginning of a more direct diplomacy with the U.S., an example of Obama extending the hand of friendship and selling America’s charm. The Obama administration has already extended to Iran this kind of gesture of reconciliation.

North Korea may be the next target. The U.S. might reach out now that tempers have flared and tensions increased following the North’s recent long-range rocket launch, the United Nations Security Council’s subsequent statement and the North’s threat to walk out of the six-party talks.

The United States has already changed direction from the previous administration, creating large waves in the sea of diplomacy. South Korea must not make the mistake of continuing its inaction, or else it might soon be soaked by the giant waves.

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