02/15/2024, 15.13
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South Korea and Cuba establish diplomatic relations, a slap for North Korea

Seoul and Havana open ties at the UN, a move that further isolates North Korea. Cuba is the 193rd country with full relations with South Korea, leaving Syria as the only UN member state without relations with the East Asian country.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – In a surprise announcement, South Korea yesterday established official diplomatic relations with Cuba through its mission to the United Nations in what, for many, represents a real slap in the face to North Korea, which boasts well-established ties with the Latin American country.

In New York, Cuban and South Korean representatives at the UN exchanged diplomatic credentials, marking the establishment of formal ties and making Cuba the 193rd country in the world with which South Korea has full relations.

The announcement marked the culmination of South Korea’s efforts to build a formal relationship with Cuba and expand its diplomatic presence in Central and South America, thanks to growing cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

Although Cuba officially recognised South Korea in 1949, bilateral trade effectively broke down after Fidel Castro's seizure of power following the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Conversely, Cuba and North Korea were allies during the Cold War, and have maintained close ties since they established diplomatic relations in 1960.

Analysts point out that the official reactions in Seoul and Havana are likely to further increase Pyongyang's diplomatic isolation and exert more pressure on the Kim regime to return to dialogue and abandon its policy of head-on confrontation with the South.

"The decision to establish official relations between both states was made in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations, International Law, and in conformity with the spirit and rules established in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961," South Korea’s mission said in a press release.

The start of relations coincides with greater inter-Korean tensions, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un branding the South as a "primary" enemy and doubling down on missile tests and weapons build-up, the latest being this week’s cruise missile testing.

The pursuit of bilateral ties appears to have been driven by a convergence between Havana's quest for deeper economic and cultural exchanges with Asia's fourth-largest economy and Seoul's willingness to enhance its global profile.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry now expects that formal relations with Cuba will mark a "crucial turning point" in its efforts to boost ties with Central and South America, broadening its diplomatic horizons.

"Going forward, our government will actively cooperate with the Cuban government on follow-up steps, including the mutual establishment of diplomatic missions," the ministry noted.

This step will also expand bilateral economic cooperation and support South Korean companies seeking to establish a foothold in Cuba.

For more than 20 years, South Korea has been trying to improve ties with the Cuba. In 1999, it supported a UN General Assembly resolution on the need to end the trade embargo on Cuba.

Currently, about 1,100 people of Korean descent live in Cuba. In the pre-pandemic era, an average of 14,000 South Koreans visited the island nation each year, government data show.

With formal relations with Cuba, Syria remains the only UN member state that does not have diplomatic ties with South Korea.

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