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Thayer Consultancy Background Brief

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Hanoi Announced as Venue for
Second Kim-Trump Summit
February 9, 2019

Earlier this morning [Friday, 9th February Washington time] President Donald Trump
announced that the he will meet the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK)
Chairman Kim Jong Un in Hanoi from 27-28 February. This has surprised many
observers as rumors identified Da Nang city as the venue for this meeting. We request
your assessment of the following:
Q1. What is the significance of choosing Hanoi to host the summit, symbolically and
logistically?
ANSWER: Reportedly the U.S. and North Korea were originally in favour of holding
their summit in the capital city of the ASEAN Chair. This is why Singapore was chosen
for the first summit. Thailand is now ASEAN Chair and Bangkok was on the initial list
of three possible venues. However, the scheduling and rescheduling of the first
national elections since the 2014 military coup, the lifting of restrictions on political
parties and ensuing street demonstrations, and the coronation of the Crown Prince as
King raised the risk of political instability. Bangkok was ruled out. Vietnam will follow
Thailand as ASEAN Chair in 2020.
The real significance in the choice of venue is not whether the summit takes place in
Hanoi or Da Nang but that it will take place in Vietnam. This is because all the
stakeholders, North Korea, the United States, China and South Korea, trust Vietnam
to be a neutral host. They also know that Vietnam is capable of providing security,
excellent accommodation, and professional diplomatic experience to managing a
high-level summit meeting.
Both China and South Korea support dialogue between North Korea and the United
States; holding the second summit in Vietnam keeps diplomatic negotiations in Asia
where China and South Korea can more easily monitor them.
Some background is necessary. President Trump’s tweet noted that Hanoi was chosen
by U.S. and North Korean officials who just concluded their meeting in Pyongyang.
Prior to this meeting North Korea favoured Hanoi for several reasons. First, they
wanted Chairman Kim to make an official visit to Vietnam and Hanoi is the capital.
Second, they wanted the second summit to be held in a city where there was a North
Korean embassy. Third, their preference – for security reasons – was to stay in one
city and not travel to another.
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The U.S. Secret Service visited both Hanoi and Da Nang. Da Nang emerged as the U.S.
first choice for a number of reasons related to security, logistics and accommodation.
Besides, Da Nang was in President Trump’s comfort zone as he had stayed there for
the APEC Summit in November 2017. He also visited Hanoi at that time.
Da Nang also featured in media reports as a possible venue for a meeting between
Trump and President Xi Jin-ping in late February. A meeting in Hanoi would have posed
protocol, security and logistic problems. Alternately, it was reported that if Presidents
Trump and Xi met on Hainan Island instead, Da Nang would have been an excellent
jumping off point. Now that a Trump-Xi meeting seems unlikely at this time there is
one less reason for Da Nang to be the venue for the second summit.
Q2. Why was Hanoi chosen as the summit venue, instead of Da Nang or another city
in Vietnam?
With the above as context, President Trump’s Tweet stated, “My representatives have
just left North Korea after a very productive meeting and an agreed upon time and
date for the second Summit with Kim Jong Un. It will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on
February 27 & 28. I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of
peace!” It would appear the U.S. negotiators made a concession to North Korea to
meet Chairman Kim’s travel preferences and not let the venue become a sticking
point.
It appears that only Hanoi and Da Nang were under active consideration from the
start. If Ho Chi Minh City had featured it would have been ruled out as unsuitable
almost immediately.
Q3. What can the city of Hanoi gain from hosting a summit like this?
ANSWER: The focus on Hanoi is slightly misplaced. It is Vietnam that gains from hosting
the U.S-North Korean summit in its capital city. Vietnam and Hanoi will be the centre
or world attention from now until the summit is concluded. Vietnam will burnish its
reputation for facilitating a meeting that addresses one of the most important global
and regional security issues – nuclear non-proliferation and denuclearization on the
Korean peninsula.
Also, Vietnam will gain increased international prestige for successfully holding this
summit. Vietnam already has acquired an enviable reputation for being a net
contributor to regional and global security. This was evidenced in its unanimous
selection by the Asia Bloc to be its candidate for re-election as a non-permanent
member of the United Nations Security Council in 2021, the year after Vietnam steps
down as ASEAN Chair.
Vietnam’s success will reaffirm the correctness of its foreign policy of “diversifying and
mutilateralizing” its external relations and being “a reliable friend to all.” All the major
stakeholders have an interest in seeing Vietnam succeed as host. Vietnam benefits
from the leverage it acquires as host for the second summit.
All the major stakeholders have an interest in ensuring that disagreements in bilateral
relations do not spill over and impact on Vietnam’s ability to be a successful host. One
commentator opined that "Vietnam is locked in a pretty intense rivalry with China in
the South China Sea, so Hanoi is looking for regional and international diplomatic
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support as a hedge against Beijing." This assessment is myopic as Vietnam has much
larger strategic interests at stake. Instability, armed conflict or nuclear war on the
Korean peninsula would have a far more devastating impact on Vietnam than tensions
with China in the South China Sea. In addition China and Vietnam have convergent
interests in promoting dialogue between North Korea and the United States.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other commentators have made much of
Vietnam’s reforms and opening as a model for North Korea to study and possibly
emulate. This increases the salience of Vietnam’s role as independent facilitator of
U.S.-North Korea dialogue to all stakeholders, including China. China stands to gain by
backing Vietnam (while maintaining the status quo in the South China Sea) and North
Korea in the current phase of talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Hanoi Announced as Venue for Second Kim-
Trump Summit,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, February 9, 2019. All
background briefs are posted on Scribd.com (search for Thayer). To remove yourself
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Thayer Consultancy provides political analysis of current regional security issues and
other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.