How Vietnam Went From Cold War Foe to a Host for Trump and Kim’s Summit
(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump’s decision to hold his second summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Vietnam’s capital carries a rich historical irony: The site of the U.S.’s biggest Cold War quagmire may be where America moves to finally end that era’s most enduring conflict. The selection of the Southeast Asian nation for the Feb. 27-28 meeting says a lot about how the world has changed in recent decades. Vietnam’s journey from American foe to budding U.S. security partner could offer Kim a road map for making peace with the world’s mightiest superpower.
1. Why Vietnam?
For starters, trust. Both Trump and Kim, whose regime has been locked in hostilities with the U.S. for almost 70 years, have intense security demands. Vietnam has been building military ties with the U.S. to balance a rising China and -- like Singapore, the host of the first Trump-Kim summit in June -- is among four dozen countries with a North Korean embassy. Moreover, Kim, who must rely on Chinese loaner aircraft and aging Russian-built passenger jets, can reach the communist country by flying over friendly territory.
2. Where exactly are they meeting?
Trump announced on Twitter that the second summit will be held in Hanoi. The city is at a distance of about a four-hour direct flight from Pyongyang, and is the home to one of four dozen North Korean embassies operating overseas in the world. It was raised as a strong candidate host city by South Korea’s Munhwa Ilbo in January. The capital offers access to services but also has crowed streets where luxury cars compete with scooters for space. High-level talks had previously discussed the central port of Danang as an option. Danang -- where the Marines first landed in 1965 -- offers sandy beaches, scenic backdrops and an airport that once served as a major U.S. airbase.
3. How do the U.S. and Vietnam get on now?
President Bill Clinton lifted the U.S. trade embargo in 1994 and began normalizing relations. Today, the U.S. is Vietnam’s third-biggest trading partner -- behind China and South Korea -- and security ties are close enough for an American aircraft carrier to visit Danang in March. A big reason has been a desire to hedge against Beijing, whose disputes with Hanoi have turned bloody over the years. That evolution could prove instructive if Kim secures a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-53 Korean War in his summit with Trump.
4. How close are North Korea and Vietnam?
Not very. Despite their shared Marxist roots, ties soured as the communist bloc fractured toward the end of the Cold War. Kim would be the first North Korean leader to visit Vietnam since his grandfather made a trip there in 1964. The two sides have made recent efforts to expand ties, with North Korean state media reporting more than 35 exchanges with Vietnam, including letters, phone calls and civilian exchanges last year. That reportedly included an informal North Korean apology for involving a Vietnamese woman in the assassination of Kim’s half-brother in 2017.
5. What does Vietnam get from hosting?
An international spotlight on one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The first Trump-Kim summit drew some 3,000 journalists to Singapore, boosting its hospitality industry and garnering massive media exposure.
6. How prepared is Vietnam?
Although Vietnam lacks Singapore’s reputation for efficiency, it did successfully host the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation events in Danang, which were attended by Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Hanoi also hosted the regional World Economic Forum last year. Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party should be able to maintain tight security and keep would-be onlookers far from Trump and Kim. The Vietnamese foreign ministry said it would work to “ensure the success” of the meeting and support “dialogue to maintain peace, security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The Reference Shelf
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.