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Can North Korea Be the Next Vietnam?

In 1986, Vietnam initiated the “Đổi Mới,” a set of economic reforms that resulted in the creation of a market economy under the firm rule of the Communist Party. North Korea has what it needs to achieve a similar transformation, but it must embrace full denuclearization first.

SEOUL – After decades of deadlock, there seems finally to be some diplomatic movement on the Korean Peninsula. The June summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump – the first between a North Korean leader and a sitting US president – produced a joint statement in which Kim agreed to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, in exchange for security guarantees from Trump.

Of course, while some cheer the development, others remind us of the North’s long history of broken promises. But even if Kim’s pledge was sincere, his regime will benefit from such guarantees – and from an end to crippling international sanctions – only if it can manage to repair North Korea’s broken economy. Could it use Vietnam’s experience as a model?

In 1986, Vietnam initiated the Đổi Mới policy, a set of economic reforms that, much like Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in China, aimed to create a market economy under the firm rule of the Communist Party. The government disbanded agricultural cooperatives, removed price controls on agricultural goods, and allowed farmers to own land. It also privatized many companies, eased foreign investment regulations, created a more supportive environment for private business, established export-processing zones, and promoted labor-intensive manufacturing industries.

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