S. Korea establishes diplomatic ties with Cuba

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : February 15, 2024, 16:09 Updated : February 23, 2024, 04:14
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[Getty Images Bank]

SEOUL -- South Korea and Cuba promised to stay as good friends by formalizing diplomatic relations between Seoul and Havana, despite escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The Latin American country, well-known for its socialist and communist roots, is now South Korea's 193rd ally. South Korea sees this diplomatic establishment as a crucial milestone in strengthening its presence in Central and South America.

The formalization of diplomatic relations between South Korea and Cuba took place about 64 years after Havana initiated relations with Pyongyang in 1960. While Cuba recognized South Korea as an official nation in 1949, the two countries barely interacted with each other after Cuba's socialist revolution in 1959. 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that the two countries' official relations were formalized in New York on February 14 through representatives to the United Nations. The ministry hopes the establishment will help enhance bilateral economic cooperation and assist South Korean companies in expanding their markets into Cuba.

Data cited by South Korea's foreign affairs ministry showed that South Korea's total exports to Cuba amounted to $14 million, while imports from Cuba reached $7 million in 2022. South Korea mainly exported construction materials, vehicles, and ships, and imported copper and industrial alcohol. Only some 40 South Korean nationals are residing in Cuba in 2022.

Approximately 1,100 descendants of Koreans who immigrated to Cuba in 1921 during the Japanese colonial rule era (1910~1945) live in the Latin American nation. Korean language classes were frequently offered by an association designed to support these Korean descendants in Havana. The South Korean foreign affairs ministry will discuss further steps, such as opening facilities for diplomatic missions. 

Around 10,000 members are involved in "ArtCor," a Cuban fan club of the Korean cultural wave. In July 2022, a Cuban film festival was held in Seoul. Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, about 14,000 South Koreans visited Cuba annually. After South Korean TV drama "Queen of Housewives" was broadcast in Cuba in 2013, many other South Korean content including "My Fair Lady" and "Secret Garden" also gained popularity among Cubans. 

The official relations were formalized amidst rising tensions between the two Koreas. Cuba is currently operating its embassy in North Korea. In 2023, North Korea intensified its military preparations, conducting test launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Pyongyang also successfully deployed a military spy satellite, aimed at monitoring the military activities of U.S. and South Korean forces. On February 14, 2024, North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un oversaw the test launch of surface-to-sea missiles. 
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