(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 20)

The presidential office unveiled a list of possible benefits stemming from the newly reestablished diplomatic ties between Seoul and Havana on Sunday. The office said more Korean enterprises will be able to make inroads into Cuba especially in the areas of daily necessities and home appliances, led by leading domestic firms like Samsung and LG. Prompted by the diplomatic decision, a series of economic pacts will be signed, easing the path for numerous domestic enterprises to venture into Havana, it said. The office underscored Cuba's emergence as a promising new market, highlighting its abundant reservoirs of vital mineral resources like nickel and cobalt, crucial components for battery production, among other sectors poised for growth. The presidential office issued its statement following the unexpected announcement on Wednesday of the normalization of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Cuba. Wary of the possible repercussions from North Korea, the announcement was strategically timed for 11:59 p.m. (KST), conducted through the exchange of official diplomatic letters via the respective U.N. offices in New York. Cuba, often referred to as the "socialist brother nation" of North Korea, forged diplomatic ties with South Korea through clandestine behind-the-scenes negotiations, according to diplomatic sources. With this development, Cuba now joins the ranks of 138 other nations with formal diplomatic relations with Seoul, leaving only Syria as the sole country yet to establish such ties with South Korea worldwide. The recent reinstatement of diplomatic relations vividly illustrates Cuba's prioritization of pragmatic necessities and economic collaboration over ideological alliances. Former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and Cuban leader Fidel Castro formed a solidarity in their bid to fight against Western imperialism. Cuba had been supporting the North consistently despite Pyongyang's arduous attempt to build up its nuclear capabilities. The past Korean governments had persistently endeavored to est ablish diplomatic relations with Cuba, led by former Foreign Ministers Yun Byung-se under the Park Geun-hye administration and Park Jin under the current government. Cuba had maintained a lukewarm attitude due to its relations with the North. "Cuba seems to have judged it has little to gain from North Korea," Cho Han-bum, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, said in an interview. Cuba has been facing increasing pressure, given the growing possibility of Donald Trump securing victory in the November U.S. presidential election. Trump's implementation of stringent policies, such as re-designating Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, has intensified the challenges facing the island nation. Coupled with expanding economic exchanges between Seoul and Havana, the number of Korean tourists to Cuba has continued to increase. Furthermore, the impact of hallyu, such as K-pop and K-drama, has been apparent in Cuba, which has nudged the Cuban authorities to make the diplomatic shift. No rth Korea appears to have been taken aback by the recent development, given its longstanding close relationship with Cuba, often described as "comrade-in-arms," involving regular exchanges of high-level officials. In an interview with The Korea Times, Cheong Seong-chang, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, described Cuba's recent decision as "the biggest diplomatic failure since Kim Jong-un took power." In an apparent response to the diplomatic move, North Korea turned its eyes to Japan, floating the idea of a summit between the two countries. The North Korean leader's powerful sister Kim Yo-jong said, "Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida may come to Pyongyang once he makes a determination." The number of North Korea's overseas missions dwindled to 44 in late 2023 from 53 early that year. This signifies a further isolation of Pyongyang within the international community, largely attributable to its relentless pursuit of nuclear armament. In response, North Korea has escalated its threats against South Korea, branding it as a "primary foe in a state of war." It appears that North Korea anticipates significant opportunities with the potential victory of Trump in the election, aiming to initiate direct dialogue with the U.S. while sidelining South Korea. Should this scenario unfold, Cuba could potentially assume a mediating role between the two Koreas. Presently, Pyongyang confronts a pivotal choice between further isolationism via nuclear proliferation or pursuing peace through dialogue and coexistence within the global community. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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