Dayton Daily News

Why Vietnam was picked for summit


When President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28 for a second round of nuclear talks, the world spotlight will shine on a country that has come a long way from the Vietnam War. The communist-led Southeast Asian nation 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 young dictator isn’t just a diplomatic show. Experts said that made the selection of Vietnam both practical and symbolic. Here are a few reasons why:

1. Location, location

The host city hasn’t yet been disclosed, but one option is Vietnam’s capital, 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 young North Korean leader appears comfortabl­e in the air.

Some experts have doubts about the safety and reliabilit­y of the aging Soviet-made planes that make up his reclusive nation’s passenger fleet. Rather than risk an embarrassi­ng midair malfunctio­n, Kim flew to Singapore aboard an Air China jet loaned by Beijing.

2. Security

The flight from North Korea to Vietnam would cross only friendly Chinese airspace, making Kim feel even safer. On the ground, the North Korean leader would step into the tight-if-not-quite-suffocatin­g embrace of another one-party state.

Vietnamese authoritie­s exercise significan­t control over dissent, public demonstrat­ions and the media. A recent anti-corruption crackdown ensnared

high-level officials in the Communist Party and at state-owned companies, but drew comparison­s to a Chinese-style political purge.

Another possible venue is the coastal city of Danang, which has hosted major summits and where warships could be positioned to offer added security, experts said.

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,” said Vu Minh Khuong, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

3. Neutral ground

The U.S. and Vietnam share a bloody history, but the relationsh­ip has moved far beyond the 1965-74 war that claimed the lives of 58,000 U.S. soldiers and an estimated 3 million Vietnamese troops and civilians.

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 $451 mil- lion in 1995 to nearly $52 billion in 2016. The Pentagon conducts an annual highlevel dialogue with Vietnamese counterpar­ts, and last year Vietnam participat­ed for the first time in the U.S.-led “Rim of the Pacific,” the world’s largest internatio­nal maritime exercise.

Ties between Vietnam and North Korea go back further. The 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.

4. A source of economic inspiratio­n

A decade after the “American War” ended, Vietnam was internatio­nally isolated and starving, a Stalinist experiment in collectivi­zation having left farmers starving and store shelves barren.

In 1986, Hanoi’s leadership began a “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 percent to 7 percent a year, with bustling small businesses, thriving manufactur­ing zones and a glittering skyline in Ho Chi Minh City.

The U.S. 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.”

5. A model for reshaping U.S. ties

From bitter enemies to trusted partners, the trajectory of the U.S.-Vietnam relationsh­ip could excite a young North Korean leader who is said to be enamored of Western culture (particular­ly the NBA).

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 U.S. service members and cleaning up remnants of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant sprayed by U.S. warplanes over 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, sending more than 20,000 annually.

Khuong, the professor, is a former North Vietnamese soldier who was trained “to fight Americans to the death.” In 1993, he earned a Fulbright scholarshi­p to Harvard.

“You can see the paradigm shift in the minds of the Vietnamese leadership in a short time, and that is very helpful for Kim,” he said. “Before, no one hated the

U.S. like Vietnam. We totally changed our thinking.”

 ?? DOUG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES 2018 ?? President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore last June. Their next summit is scheduled to take place in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28.
DOUG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES 2018 President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sentosa Island in Singapore last June. Their next summit is scheduled to take place in Vietnam on Feb. 27-28.

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