The Vietnam Model for North Korea
This week's summit in Hanoi with US President Donald Trump gives North Korean leader Kim Jong-un another chance to work toward lifting his country out of international isolation. In this regard, Kim would do well to study Vietnam's record over the past three decades.
SINGAPORE – In Hanoi, Vietnam, this week for his second summit with US President Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s 35-year-old leader, will not only be looking for a deal with the US on the nuclear issue. His longer-term aim is to lift his country out of diplomatic isolation, gain relief from years of international economic sanctions, and reform the poverty-stricken “hermit kingdom,” enabling him to remain in power for decades to come.
As Kim charts his country’s future course, he may find that Vietnam’s own record over the past three decades is the most useful model to follow. This is why his separate bilateral visit to Vietnam this week is also very important, and should not be overlooked amid the fanfare surrounding the summit with Trump.
There are many similarities between North Korea today and Vietnam before it opened up and adopted market reforms known as Doi Moi (renovation) in the late 1980s. Back then, Vietnam also was a command economy dominated by inefficient state-owned enterprises. Overspending on defense had led to widespread poverty and underdevelopment, and the country faced heavy international sanctions because of its occupation of Cambodia. After 30 years of reforms, Vietnam’s economy has grown thirtyfold, and the country graduated from low-income status in 2010. It is now one of the world’s most open economies, with total trade more than double the size of its GDP.
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