Saturday, 23 February, 2019

Why is Vietnam going to host the second Trump-Kim summit?

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Donald Trump plans to hold a second meeting with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un in Vietnam on February 27-28, the USA president announced during his State of the Union address, claiming full credit for avoiding a devastating war.

The United States and Vietnam normalized ties in 1995, decades after the end of the Vietnam War. It's hosted high-level worldwide gatherings before, including a World Economic Forum meeting in Hanoi in September and an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang in 2017, which was attended by world leaders including Trump.

For North Korea, Vietnam is a comrade who has supported the country in war and at global forums.

"Vietnam is locked in a pretty intense rivalry with China in the South China Sea, so Hanoi is looking for regional and worldwide diplomatic support as a hedge against Beijing", said Murray Hiebert, senior associate of the Southeast Asia Program at the Centre for Strategic and global Studies in Washington.

Vietnam is one of a handful of countries with which North Korea has good relations.

The US base in the area was used to store Agent Orange, a chemical deployed during the Vietnam war which led to cancer, birth defects and a host of other health problems for multiple generations of Vietnamese citizens. The country, however, is keen to project itself on the world stage.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made that case in June in Hanoi, when he pointed to the country's evolving relations with the US, which went from fighting to a partnership.

"The miracle could be yours", Pompeo said, addressing Kim.

Opinion about Trump's outreach to Kim Jong Un divides North Korea experts. "It's yours if you'll seize the moment".

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer ridiculed President Trump's assertion that his own election averted a "major war" with North Korea. But Adam Cathcart, a lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Leeds, says Beijing would likely welcome the opportunity for Kim to further align his image with Asia's "more reformed or external trade-oriented economies". During that visit, Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh told his North Korean counterpart that he welcomed the positive developments on the Korean Peninsula and that Vietnam was willing to share its socio-economic development experiences, Vietnamese state media reported.

Diplomatic ties between Hanoi and Pyongyang date back to 1950, and North Korea sent air force personnel to the communist North during the Vietnam War.

Security in the communist country is tight even during normal times. While Human Rights Watch and other groups have criticized authorities' crackdowns on dissent and Vietnam's restrictions on freedom of expression, authoritarianism has not been a deterrent to global business. He did not reveal the in-country venue for the meeting.

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