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Reasons behind Vietnam’s selection to host second US–North Korea summit: US press

Updated at Saturday, 09 Feb 2019, 09:23
The Hanoitimes - Vietnam is one of the few nations to enjoy friendly relations with both Washington and Pyongyang, according to experts.
When US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in Vietnam on February 27 -28 for a second US – North Korea summit, the world spotlight will shine on a country that has come a long way from the Vietnam War.
 
US President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. Source: AP.
US President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. Source: AP.
Vietnam is now a booming economy and increasingly assertive regional diplomatic player. It is also one of the few nations to enjoy friendly relations with both Washington and Pyongyang.

The first round of talks, held last June in Singapore, produced vague promises by North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arsenal — but no concrete steps to achieve that. Now Trump is trying to demonstrate that his outreach to the North Korean leader isn’t just a diplomatic show.

Experts said that made the selection of Vietnam both practical and symbolic as reported by Los Angeles Times.

1. Location

In the latest tweet on Twitter, US President Donald Trump confirmed the summit will be hosted in Hanoi, which lies 1,700 miles from Pyongyang, North Korea. That’s closer than Chicago is to Los Angeles, and it means an even shorter flight for Kim than the one he took to Singapore.

Unlike his late father, Kim Jong Il, who was afraid of flying and used an armored train on his rare foreign trips, the North Korean leader appears comfortable in the air.

2. Security

The flight from North Korea to Vietnam would cross only friendly Chinese airspace, making Kim feel even safer.

The Vietnamese public is broadly enthusiastic about playing host to Trump and Kim, and no one expects any protests or other disturbances to mar the summit.

“In terms of security, in terms of friendliness, it’s excellent,” Vu Minh Khuong, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore was quoted by Los Angeles Times as saying. “Kim Jong Un for sure will be excited about that.”

3. Neutral ground

Since President Clinton normalized relations with Vietnam in 1995, the countries have developed close economic and military ties, centered in part on shared concerns over China’s trade practices and its advances in the South China Sea.

Bilateral trade jumped from US$451 million in 1995 to nearly US$52 billion in 2016. The Pentagon conducts an annual high-level dialogue with Vietnamese counterparts, and last year Vietnam participated for the first time in the US-led “Rim of the Pacific,” the world’s largest international maritime exercise.

Ties between Vietnam and North Korea go back further. The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1950, and eight years later Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s founder and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, visited Hanoi.

In December, Vietnam held a grand celebration commemorating the 60-year anniversary of the visit, including a banquet attended by a North Korean delegation led by Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

Kim Jong Un exchanged New Year’s cards with the Vietnamese president, according to North Korean state media.

“There are not many other places that North Korea trusts and the U.S. also trusts,” said Joshua Kurlantzick, a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations.

4. A source of economic inspiration

In 1986, Hanoi’s leadership began the doi moi program of liberalization that reopened the country to the world and produced one of the most stunning economic turnarounds in recent times.

Vietnam’s economy is expanding by 6% to 7% a year, with bustling small businesses, thriving manufacturing zones and a glittering skyline in Ho Chi Minh City.

The country’s leaders have embraced the summit as a chance to advertise itself on the world stage.

Vietnam is keen to spread its story worldwide to promote its image and international status on the world stage, according to Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnam expert at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

The US hasn’t exactly been subtle about the lessons it sees for Kim, who has talked of developing his country’s centralized economy. Last year, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo used a speech to business leaders in Hanoi to address Kim directly, saying: “This miracle can be yours.”

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said Vietnam shows “the possibilities for peace and prosperity,” and that the Trump administration is hoping Kim will see it as a model of the kind of growth that can come with more economic flexibility, if not necessarily more political freedom.

5. A model for reshaping US ties

From bitter enemies to trusted partners, the trajectory of the US-Vietnam relationship could excite the North Korean leader who is said to be enamored of Western culture.

The rapprochement with Vietnam began slowly, with bilateral efforts to account for prisoners of war. It has expanded to cooperation in repatriating the remains of US service members and cleaning up remnants of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant sprayed by US warplanes over large swaths of northern Vietnam during the war.

Cultural ties have also grown rapidly. Vietnam is one of the largest sources of foreign students to the United States.

Palladino said Vietnam had become a “close friend and partner” of the US and shows "the possibilities for peace and prosperity."
Ngoc Mai
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