Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Normalization

Policy Alert: Rising Powers React to U.S.-Cuba Diplomatic Normalization

uscubaflagsAfter decades of Cold War hostility and economic embargoes, President Barack Obama held a historic meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro on April 11, marking an important step toward diplomatic normalization between the two nations. At a news conference, President Obama emphasized that “it was time to try something new…to engage more directly with the Cuban government and the Cuban people. And as a consequence, I think we are now in a position to move on a path towards the future.” In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from China, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil on the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization.


Chinese media reflected positively on the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. 

  • China Daily senior writer Wang Hui praised the normalization between the two nations, arguing that “Washington’s relationship with South American countries has been greatly dented by both the US embargo on Cuba and its interventionist and hegemonic behavior in the region. Despite the US’ efforts to consolidate its power and presence in a region it considers its backyard, its ‘carrot and stick’ policy has by and large run into a stone wall as Latin American nations have shown growing solidarity and greater determination in defending their sovereignty and independence.”
  • “China will continue to support Cuba’s political system and road of development. [Our] policy of developing friendly relations with Cuba will not be changed no matter how the international situation changes,” Qin Gang, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry said.
  • Normalizing U.S.-Cuba relations will not threaten China’s long-term relationship with Cuba, but instead further open up Cuba and make it a better place for China to do business, according to a number of Chinese experts:
    • “China and Cuba set up a solid foundation a long time ago that will not be easily shaken,” said Xu Shicheng, a research fellow in Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
    • “On the other hand, Western countries like the US will better understand socialist countries through the re-established relations with Cuba, which is helpful for strengthening Sino-US relations,” said Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.


Japanese newspapers discussed the implications of the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization for America’s diplomacy and influence in Latin America and beyond.

  • The Sankei Shimbun welcomed the “historic transformation” in the U.S.-Cuban relations marked by the summit. It urged the Republican-controlled Congress to approve the diplomatic effort, emphasizing that the deepening of the bilateral economic relationship will promote Cuba’s democratization.
  • “Normalizing diplomatic ties with Cuba will be an important touchstone for whether the United States can regain sound leadership in this region,” argued the Yomiuri Shimbun, noting the fact that China recently has been expanding its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, which America sees as its “traditional area of dominance,” via projects such as the $50 billion Nicaragua Grand Canal construction.
  • “By moving to normalize relations with Cuba, the U.S. is testing a strategy [of engagement] in the new Cold War, a reality the world is beginning to recognize [in light of Russian annexation of Crimea and Chinese assertiveness over the East and South China Seas],” posited The Nikkei Shimbun. “With its international standing and finances weakened by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the financial crisis, the U.S. is no longer the superpower that can overwhelm adversaries. Instead, it has chosen to prod democratization and market liberalization through political and economic engagement.”


South Koreans focused on the prospect of potential dialogue between the United States and North Korea following the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization.

  • The Hankyoreh emphasized that the U.S.-Cuba diplomatic normalization, combined with the recent Iranian nuclear deal, “leaves North Korea as the only country to remain isolated of the three countries (North Korea, Cuba, and Iran) with whom U.S. President Obama promised to shake hands with when he took office in 2009… Given this trend, it would seem that we could expect Obama to turn to North Korea as the final target of his legacy building before his presidency effectively wraps up at the end of next year.”
  • “Obama could have a diplomatic trifecta if he can solve the North Korean nuclear crisis after normalizing relations with Cuba and settling the Iran nuclear problem,” noted the Joong-Ang Ilbo.
  • Lee Byong-chul, director for Nonproliferation Centre at the Institute for Peace and Cooperation, Seoul, argued that President Obama should “repeat to North Korea what he did to Cuba lately, instead of applying Iran-like sanctions to North Korea. The continuation of the current U.S. coercive approach toward the unpredictable regime is a recipe for hastening the regime to solidify its nuclear status in the world.”
  • “[T]he Obama administration will not be ready to cut a deal with Pyongyang as it focuses on gaining cooperation from the Republican-controlled Congress in sealing accords with Iran and Cuba,” contested The Korea Herald. “Under these circumstances, South Korean officials need to be more adroit and proactive in inducing the North to take the course of securing its survival by bolstering its crumbling economy with support from the international community in return for discarding its nuclear arsenal — in a gradual manner if necessary.”
  • “It is highly unlikely the Obama administration will be interested in diplomatic engagement with the North. Pursuing normalization with Cuba and continuing negotiations with Iran and with members of the U.S. Congress will be a full-time job,” posited Katharine Moon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Center for East Asia Policy Studies. However, she added, “if in the future, Pyongyang is genuinely interested in substantive negotiations, Washington should extend to North Korea the open hand and good will that President Obama extended to Tehran.”


As in the rest of Latin America, the rapprochement between the US and Cuba was received positively and with a sense of relief and optimism for the future of relations between the U.S., Cuba and the rest of the region.

  • Speaking at the Summit of the Americas in Panama on April 11th, President Dilma Rousseff celebrated the rapprochement, calling it the end to “one of the last vestiges of the Cold War.” In the same speech, she expressed her desire that the U.S. would soon end the economic embargo on the island.
  • Rousseff was also critical of U.S. sanctions on officials accused of human rights abuses in Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally in Latin America. Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro’s promised response to the sanctions at the Summit threatened to derail the historic encounter between Barack Obama and Raúl Castro; however, reporting from the Summit revealed that former U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon was able to meet with Venezuelan officials with the backing of Brazil to diffuse the situation.
  • Merval Pereira, a blogger for O Globo outlined the importance of better U.S.-Cuban relations to Brazil. Specifically, according to him, the $1 billion in loans from Brazil’s development bank BNDES to Cuba to refurbish and modernize the port of Mariel was a major impetus for Brazil pressuring Cuba to reestablish relations with the U.S., especially as the Venezuelan economic situation worsens, putting the Cuban economy at risk.
  • In an editorial, Estadão declared the successful meeting of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama as a major blow to the anti-Americanism of the Latin American left that had been so strongly tied to the Cuban Revolution and revitalized with the rise of the “Pink Tide” led by Hugo Chávez over the past decade. According to them, “Raúl’s gesture breaks the logic of [the anti-American] discourse” in Latin America.
  • Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva also praised the U.S. for removing Cuba from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, adding that there is no reason for the U.S. economic embargo to continue because “there is no more honest people than the Cubans.”