Seoul and Havana Take One More Step Towards the Opening of Embassies in Both Countries

South Korea will open a temporary office in the Cuban capital until the the diplomatic headquarters is completed

A South Korean delegation visiting Havana this April / @cmphcuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, April 29, 2024 — After re-establishing diplomatic relations last February, Cuba and South Korea have agreed to open their respective diplomatic headquarters in Seoul and Havana. The pact was signed in the capital of the Island, where several officials of the South Korean Foreign Ministry arrived from April 24 to 27, to exchange diplomatic letters. On the page of its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, South Korea also announced the signing of the agreement: “Our Government plans to continue consultations with the Cuban side so that our Embassy in Cuba can be opened as soon as possible. To this end, we will establish a temporary office in Havana as an intermediate step in the opening,” says the portfolio statement, which also announces the sending of diplomatic personnel.

For its part, the Cuban Foreign Ministry published a brief message on its social networks announcing the reception of the Korean delegation, headed by the director general of Coordination and Foreign Planning of that country, Song Si-jin.

The caution of the Cuban authorities around the restoration of relations with South Korea, a potential economic ally, responds to attempts to keep ties stable with North Korea, an important political partner for the Island and an enemy of Seoul, which it has recently threatened to “annihilate.”

The Cuban Government sees in South Korea an unexplored potential for investments and resources that North Korea hardly offers

The Cuban Government sees in South Korea an unexplored potential for investments and resources that North Korea hardly offers and that, in the current economic crisis, could be a breath of fresh air for the regime.

Suspicion of Havana, however, has not been overlooked by Cubans who, after the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations – broken since 1959 by the arrival of Fidel Castro to power – asked the Foreign Ministry for explanations in the comments of the media and social media accounts of the ruling party.

On one hand, users said, relations have been maintained with Pyongyang since 1960, and the country has been a great ally of Havana, a bond that “must be respected.” On the other hand, the most pragmatic asserted, “the Democratic People’s Republic must understand that it is an inalienable right of our country to open up relations with all nations” and, in this case, with one of the most important in the world in terms of technology – something that “perhaps we can take advantage of economically.”

For its part, Seoul has declared its interest in what Havana has to offer. “Cuba is a considerable source of key mineral resources for the production of electric vehicles, such as cobalt and nickel,” the South Korean Presidential Office said last February.

The statement also explained that companies interested in entering the Cuban market would be helped with basic necessities such as appliances and machinery, which have high prices on the Island. Seoul also pointed out multiple business and cooperation opportunities in the energy sector, something that Havana cannot reject in its current situation, when it tries to alleviate the fuel crisis with solar panels and electric vehicles. (South Korea is the headquarters of three of the five companies that dominate the global battery market for this type of vehicle, LG, SK On and Samsung).

Medicine and biotechnology are other areas where the South Korean government sees potential: “Cuba has been an untapped market where direct trade is still very limited due to United States sanctions, but we will take advantage of this opportunity of establishing formal diplomatic relations to lay the foundations for a gradual expansion of economic cooperation,” Seoul said, ignoring the policies of Washington, its closest partner, regarding Havana.

Despite the fact that diplomatic relations were suspended, the rapprochement between Cuba and South Korea coincided, in 2015, with the thaw between Washington and Havana, when several economic exchanges in technological and energy matters began, which were limited by the lack of a favorable diplomatic scenario.

Before the pandemic, about 14,000 South Korean citizens traveled to the Island every year, and another 1,100 descendants of Koreans reside there

In 2022, for example, according to data provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, the country exported goods to Cuba for a value of 14 million dollars and imported goods worth 7 million. Likewise, before the pandemic, about 14,000 South Korean citizens traveled to the Island every year, and another 1,100 descendants of Koreans who migrated during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945) reside there. All of them, the Foreign Ministry explained at the time, need “systematic consular assistance.”

Until now, Cuba was the only country on the continent with which South Korea did not maintain links despite the fact that “the two countries have expanded cooperation focusing on non-political fields such as culture, human exchange and development cooperation. In particular, the friendship between the two peoples through recent cultural exchanges has contributed to the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” said the statement of South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

Two examples of these relations in “non-political fields” are the purchase by Havana of the Korean-built ferry Perseverancia, which makes the trip between the Isla de la Juventud and the Surgidero of Batabanó (Mayabeque), and the aid worth $200,000 in medicines and health material sent by Seoul after the explosion in 2022 of the Matanzas supertanker base.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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