On December 17, 2014, US President Barack Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro announced to normalize relations between the United States and Cuba after 50 years of animosity and embargo. The speech, unexpected to the public, was widely praised by the international community. China also welcomes the move to restore U.S.-Cuba diplomatic relations and hopes the U.S. will lift its embargo on Cuba.
The thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations has internal momentums. For the U.S., the role of Cuba as an outpost in the Cold War has greatly diminished since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the embargo imposed on Cuba is never lifted, which becomes the biggest obstacle in U.S.-Cuba relations. As UN General Assembly demands to end the Cuban blockade almost every year, the U.S. faces increasing pressure and aims to seek a breakthrough. Obama advocates for an engagement strategy instead of military confrontation and seeks to realize the U.S. strategic target by smart diplomatic power. Improving U.S.-Cuba relations is consistent with his long-term style of diplomacy. After his loss in the congressional elections, and relieved of the burden of another presidential election, Obama is more determined than ever to redeem his legacy and solicit Latino voters’ support for the Democratic party. For Cuba, the thaw is conducive to ending embargo, as well as facilitating remittance, travel, tobacco exports, the domestic economic development and people’s living standard.
Both U.S. and Cuba face external pressures to improve the relations. After reelected as president, Obama has been preoccupied with a series of issues like Prism, the Syran crisis, Ukraine and the rise of ISIS, which enable the perception of a vacillating, disorganized and ambivalent “weak president.” People often criticize Obama for lacking creativity and initiative in diplomacy. Due to the further intervention of the U.S. in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, some scholars fear that U.S.-Russia relations are deteriorating into a new cold war. Cuba once was an important ally of the Soviet Union. In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Cuba on the first stop of a Latin America tour and wrote off 90 percent of the more than $30 billion in Soviet-era debt Cuba owed Russia, which was then described as “Russia’s Presence in Our Backyard” by the U.S. media. The U.S. took the initiative to improve its relations with Cuba also with the aim to eliminate the threat from Russia. As for Cuba, because of the U.S. embargo, its economic development is highly dependent on foreign assistance especially from Venezuela, the most significant ally in the region. However, a plunge in oil prices since October last year have caused heavy losses to Venezuela’s economy, making the country too feeble to assist Cuba.
The U.S.-Cuba thaw follows the historical trend of globalization, serves the interests of both countries, and closes the “final chapter of the Cold War.” If U.S. embargoes against Cuba are to be lifted in the future, it will greatly boost Cuba’s economic development. It can also be expected to remove an obstacle in China-Cuba trade relations. More Chinese businesses would be willing to invest in Cuba, which is also good news for China. U.S.-Cuba thaw demonstrates America’s readiness to transcend the Monroe Doctrine and its sincerity to construct new type of partnership with Latin American countries. It is also a manifestation that the U.S. intends to play down the ideological contention and to replace cold war and confrontation with peace and cooperation. This very logic of U.S.-Cuba thaw is largely on a parallel with that of China-U.S. new type of major country relations, which is encouraging for China-U.S. relations. Thirty-six years ago, China and U.S. normalized relations and since then China has been actively engaged in world affairs in an open manner and created a “China miracle” that attracts the whole world’s attention. China and U.S. also provide the world with a new path that two countries with different social systems, in different development phases, and under different civilizations could both succeed and achieve peaceful development. As President Obama said in his TV speech, the development of China-U.S. relations provides experience for U.S. to make the decision to thaw relations with Cuba.
The two countries have taken historic steps to chart a new course in their relations, but they still have a long way to go. Obama’s decision has met with opposition from some Republicans and some Cuba-Americans. Lifting embargoes and appointing an ambassador to Cuba requires the support of Congress, but considering Obama’s loss of Congress, it will be more difficult for him to further U.S.-Cuba relations. It is time for the U.S. to abandon its Cold War mentality and take substantive measures on lifting embargoes against Cuba. It is also hoped that President Obama has more excellent performances in his “fourth quarter.”