Cubans in Seoul
Visit to serve as catalyst for improved ties
A rare economic delegation arrived in Seoul Monday. The mission consists
of officials and businessmen from Cuba, one of the four countries with
which Korea has no diplomatic relations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the delegation will stay
here until Friday to seek ways to increase bilateral trade and
investment. So far, only Cuban state company officials have visited
Seoul and this is the first time for a high-level official to visit the
The delegates will meet with Korean government officials and visit the
Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA), Hyundai Motor, Hyundai
Mobis and Hyundai Engineering & Construction.
So far, Cuba has been an unknown country to South Koreans except for
some sports games. The Caribbean island country recognized South Korea
in 1949 and provided the poverty-stricken South with $2.79 million
during the 1950-53 Korean War. But their relations were severed in 1959
when Cuba was communized.
Instead, Cuba has built up close relationships with North Korea.
Following the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1960, Cuba's longtime
leader Fidel Castro visited Pyongyang in 1986 to meet with then North
Korean leader Kim Il-sung. Cuba signed a free trade agreement with the
North in 1997.
Cubans' contacts with South Koreans have been rare despite former
President Roh Tae-woo's “Northern Policy'' declared in 1991. In 2001,
then National Assembly Speaker Lee Man-sup visited Cuba to attend a
meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and met with Castro. In
the same year, a Cuban culture ministry official attended a World
Tourism Organization (WTO) conference in Seoul.
History shows that relations with Cuba began with Korean immigrants in
the early 1900s, when the Korean Peninsula was under Japan's colonial
rule. Of more than 2,000 immigrants who were sent to Mexico, nearly 300
travelled to Cuba in 1921 to work on collective farms. At present, 300
Korean Cubans from 80 households reportedly live in the communist country.
The delegation's visit allegedly resulted from Cuba's growing interest
in Korean businesses, especially automobile and electronics companies,
which have been raising their profiles in the Cuban market.
Currently, Korean exports to Cuba remain at about $200-$300 million a
year but the prospect for export growth is bright. In fact, there has
been intermittent talk about secret contacts with Cuba but little
progress was reported owing to the country's passivity.
Foreign ministry officials say it may be different this time, noting
that the Seoul visit was realized at the request of Cubans. It's too
early to foster premature expectations for an epoch-making deal but the
visit could serve as a catalyst for the enhancement of mutual
cooperation in diverse fields.
We feel it necessary for the government to make more active diplomatic
efforts toward Cuba in consideration of looming threats from North Korea
and expect that the two countries will set up official ties in the