In his annual State of the Union address to Congress last Wednesday, President Trump said he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on February 27-28. The White House later specified Hanoi as the location.
Experts have praised the choice of Vietnam as the venue as it enjoys a positive relationship with both the U.S. and North Korea, and is fit to be a mediator for peace.
Le Thu Huong, a senior analyst at Australian Strategic Policy Institute, told VnExpress International that Vietnam being chosen as the venue positions the country as a neutral and trustworthy partner, enough for both sides to consider conducting talks there.
“It will put Vietnam on the peace-talking world map for a change,” she said.
The summit is being planned as Vietnam’s Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh is on a three-day visit to North Korea, between Februay 12 and 14. The trip comes shortly after Minh’s counterpart Ri Yong-ho visited Hanoi in late November, when both sides agreed to develop bilateral relations and Vietnam offered to share its development experience with North Korea.
Le Hong Hiep, a fellow with Singapore’s ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, said the upcoming summit “can be a chance for Vietnam to showcase its active foreign policy, through which Vietnam would like to contribute more to the international community, as well as to regional peace and security.”
Carl Thayer, emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy, shared similar thoughts.
The fact that Vietnam has been picked as the venue for the second summit between Trump and Kim is a legacy of Vietnam’s long-standing policy of “diversifying and multilateralizing” its foreign policy and being “a reliable partner and friend to all,” he said.
North Korea trusts Vietnam, Thayer said, because a decade ago, Vietnam had hosted quiet talks between Japan and North Korea on the family reunification issue.
Vietnam’s experience for past events is apparently considered an advantage.
Charles Armstrong, a professor from Columbia University, said Vietnam is highly capable of guaranteeing security and logistics demands for big international events, citing APEC 2017 as an example.
The APEC summit, held November 2017 in the central city of Da Nang, gathered top leaders from across the world, including the U.S. President, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.
The selection of Hanoi this time may have been made based on logistic considerations of North Korea, as Kim Jong-un is said to be planning a state visit to Hanoi, Hiep said.
The Vietnam model
Even before rumors began doing the rounds about Vietnam hosting the second meeting between Trump and Kim, both countries had expressed interest in Vietnam as a growth model for North Korea.
Observers say that the choice of Vietnam as an economic model for North Korea to follow is rooted in historical, ideological and practical reasons.
Vietnam has had a hostile past with both the U.S. and South Korea due to the Vietnam War, in which the latter was involved; but now Vietnam is an important economic and security partner of both nations, Hiep said.
He said Vietnam had also suffered a certain imposed isolation like North Korea, but later, it successfully implemented market-based economic reforms and opened up the country to international integration, which is a path “both Washington and Seoul would like to encourage Pyongyang to take.”
The North Korean leader spoke recently of his hopes for economic reforms in the country.
In three meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in last year, he repeatedly cited Vietnam’s successes, South Korean media reported.
During a visit to Hanoi last July just after his visit to Pyongyang, Washington’s top diplomat Mike Pompeo referred to Vietnam, which now enjoys burgeoning trade ties with former foe U.S., as a model for North Korea.
Then, in his trip to Vietnam in November last year, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho told the Vietnamese government that North Korea hopes to learn from Vietnam’s model of development.
North Korea has from time to time sent students and working missions to Vietnam to study its reform program and opening up of the economy under doi moi, Vietnam’s renovation policy, officially adopted in 1986.
Thayer said that the Trump-Kim being held in Vietnam is all the more timely because the country will be ASEAN Chair in 2020 and is on course to be re-elected as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council for the 2020-2021 term.
Denuclearization of the Korean peninsula will be a protracted process and Vietnam as ASEAN Chair and as a non-permanent member of the Security Council can play a diplomatic role during this period and after, he said.