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Vietnam: a compromise pick for Trump-Kim meeting

AFP | US President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on February 5, 2019.

Vietnam, a Communist state that has embraced capitalism and long-time North Korea ally, will be hosting US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for their second summit later this month. The venue has assets for both parties.

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During his annual State of the Nation address on Tuesday, Trump said he would be holding his second meeting with the North Korean leader in Vietnam on February 27-28.

The Southeast Asian nation is a symbolic pick for North Korea because it was split in two more than 20 years ago during the height of the Cold War, as was the Korean peninsula.

Vietnam and North Korea have had diplomatic relations since 1950 and Pyongyang even supported the Communist North during the Vietnam War, sending air force troops as reinforcements.

But from an economic point of view, bilateral trade has declined between the two countries as a result of the sanctions imposed by the UN against North Korea.

Kim Jong Un has never been to Vietnam -- his grandfather, Kim Il Song, was the last North Korean leader to visit the Southeast Asian nation in 1958.

Lessons in ‘Doi Moi’

Kim Jong Un's move could therefore help him consolidate bilateral relations and also learn from Vietnam's economic transformation.

In 1986, Vietnam launched its Doi Moi –or "all-round renovation process” – to try to step up economic growth. Since then, the country has embraced capitalism without forsaking its communist regime, an idea that could seduce the North Korean leader.

Vietnam "can be a good source of inspiration and reflection for [Kim Jong Un] allowing him to think about how he should advance North Korea", Le Hong Hiep of the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) told AFP.

A Trump-Kim summit would also increase Vietnam’s status in the international community, a goal Hanoi has been pursuing since the country hosted the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which was attended by the US and Chinese presidents.

Limiting Chinese influence

Washington also hopes the Vietnamese economic model will inspire the North Korean leader.

"Your country can reproduce this path, it's up to you, if you seize this moment," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last year during a visit to Vietnam.

Trump’s is also trying to limit the growing influence of China, the North Korean regime’s main economic backer and diplomatic ally.

During their meeting in January -- the fourth in less than a year -- Kim Jong Un and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to jointly study the negotiations "on the Korean Peninsula" and on "the denuclearisation” issue in particular.

Trump could use Vietnam to "signal to Beijing that North Korea is not in their hands" and that the US "can counterbalance Chinese influence", Cheon Seong Whun, a visiting scholar at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, told AFP.

Vietnam is also highly symbolic for the US, especially the central coastal city of Da Nang, which was one of the busiest hubs for US aircraft during the Vietnam War. Hanoi and Da Nang have been floated as possible venues for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.

If Da Nang is chosen, the city -- the fourth-largest in the country -- has dozens of high-end hotels, conducive to hosting an event of such magnitude.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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