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CWA # 98, 18 March 2019

Trump-Kim Summit & Regional Stakes
For Vietnam, its a big deal

  Aparupa Bhattacherjee

How does Vietnam, that hosted the Trump-Kim summit look at the outcome? What did Hanoi aim at in hosting the summit between the US and North Korea? And what has it achieved?

PhD Scholar, School of Conflict Studies, NIAS

The Trump-Kim 2019 Summit has been declared as a failure. North Korea is back to square one; reports suggest Pyongyang re-building Sahoe satellite launching station.

How does Vietnam, that hosted the Trump-Kim summit look at the outcome? What did Hanoi aim at in hosting the summit between the US and North Korea? And what has it achieved?

 

US-Vietnam and Vietnam-North Korea

The US and Vietnam connection have witnessed a steady improvement since August 1995 establishment of bilateral relationship. Over the years trade agreements and military co-operations have benefited both the countries especially Vietnam because of the China factor. But it was only during the Obama administration that a new height was achieved that commenced in the first ever visit of a Vietnamese leader and also the General Secretary of the Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, to America. However, this was dampened to an extent since Trump came to power due to two reasons: one being Trumps lack of Asia Pacific focus unlike Obama and two, the cancelation of the US Trans-Pacific Partnership. This deal was pivotal for Vietnam for keeping China at the bay. Nevertheless, the situation improved with visit to Hanoi in 2017 after APEC meeting. Hence, Hanoi’s selection as the venue for the summit brought the Trump to Vietnam.

Unlike US-Vietnam relationship, Vietnam’s association with North Korea was only stuck in history. The friendship between Ho Chin Minh and kim II-Sung was talked about however was not carried forward by their future generations. The trade related troubles in 90s and 2000 and North Korea’s support to Khmer Rouge had put a stalemate to the relationship. Hence, Kim Jong Un’s visit to Vietnam in the lieu of this summit was a rapprochement. He was the first North Korean leader to visit after his grandfather, after 60 years.  Kim even after the summit stayed back on 1 and 2 March and met the President Nguyen Phu Throng, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and National Assembly Chairwomen Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan. The two countries agreed on better ties and trade. Thus, although the summit was failure but Vietnam has regained its old ties with North Korea and also to an extent has been reassured by its old ally, America.

 

Trump-Kim Summit and Vietnam

Selection of the venue has played a role in both the summits. Singapore was chosen as a venue for the last June summit because it was a perfect example for Kim to see how an economically successful country can look like and also to flaunt one of the economically thriving American allies. This had been successful as Kim had surprisingly decided to visit downtown Singapore to witness its growth. Similarly, in the case of this year’s summit, Vietnam was not randomly selected as the venue it had a larger purpose. Vietnam is a country which had transformed itself from a staunch US enemy to its allies over a period of 50 years. Hence Vietnam was used as a venue to set an example for North Korea. Several academics have pointed out that the US may have been selling North Korea the Vietnam model, a communist country who have witnessed a major economic boom since they have adopted the market reforms. The US also emphasised its role as an ally in Vietnam’s economic development which is the same as what they have promised as an incentive to North Korea. This could have been a probable reason that Trump decided to meet the Vietnamese leaders drawing a lot of media attention before he attended the summit with Kim.

Vietnam has been excited to host this summit, as it was a big event for the country. The excitement was evident in the street and also among the people. This summit was important for the country has it was able to attract the international focus and also increased its stature as capable to host a summit of this importance, especially after Singapore. But to answer the question on the impact of the summit’s failure on Vietnam, many claimed it was not positive as it was the host and hence a success would ensure Vietnam’s name in the history. However, this assumption could be wrong. Vietnam is an ally of the US in order to keep its neighbour China out of the bay with whom they do not share a cordial equation. In that scenario, the success of the summit would have been a serious concern for Vietnam, given that one of the demands of Kim was the withdrawal of US nuclear umbrella protection over the region. This is something Vietnam benefits from and hence would have been more important than the countries fame as a host of a successful summit.

Thus, it seems that the failure of 2019 Trump and Kim summit have burnt bridges for the US and North Korea but have benefited Vietnam, the host of this summit.  

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