Next Stop Havana


AKA Byung-se’s Excellent Adventure



Fresh off of cleaning Pyongyang’s clock in East Africa, South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se showed up in Havana, and he wasn’t there to smoke Cohibas.

Cuba and North Korea have long been ideological allies, and in 2013 the countries were caught busting UN sanctions on arms trading. But Cuba is in the process of re-establishing diplomatic relations with the United States, and in February, Yun informed the National Assembly of his desire to normalize Seoul’s diplomatic relations with Havana. The issue had been largely dormant since the two countries first discussed the possibility of normalization under the Presidency of Kim Dae-jung. Yet despite the lack of formal recognition, economic ties between the two countries have been deepening. According to Hankyoreh reporting, Yun had a long conversation on the issue with his counterpart Bruno Rodriguez, and while quick movement is not likely, follow up deliberations are expected.  

The Yun-Rodriguez meeting followed a visit by senior North Korean party officials who had visited Havana to strengthen ties between the Korean Workers Party and the Communist Party of Cuba. Although it is highly unlikely that the Cubans will abandon ties with North Korea, one senses that like the East Africans, the Cubans can accurately assess the current correlation of forces.

After leaving Cuba, Yun next visited Moscow, the first South Korean foreign minister to visit Russia in five years. The two sides agreed that they did not accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state and pledged to implement UNSCR 2270.  While in recent years Moscow has clearly not been on the same page as Washington when it came to North Korea, historically the Soviet Union, and now Russia, have taken a dim view of nuclear proliferation.

Oh, and South Korea offered to deepen bilateral cooperation on the economic front, and to continue exploring the possibility of a free trade agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, a group led by Russia. 

I wonder if Yun mentioned anything about economic assistance in those talks about normalization with Cuba. Maybe Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriquez should give his Kenyan counterpart a call. How does one say “Kaesong Industrial Complex” in Spanish?

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