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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123

North Korea and the Vietnam
Carlyle A. Thayer
February 18, 2019

As the second Trump-Kim summit will be held in Hanoi this month, some experts
think that Vietnam could be a model for North Korea. We request your assessment
of the following three issues:
Q1. As many people said that Vietnam could be a model for North Korea, in your
opinion, what could North Korea learn from Vietnam?
ANSWER: Western commentary on this issue identifies three separate areas where
North Korea could learn from Vietnam. One area is domestic economic reform. The
second area is how two war-time adversaries – Vietnam and the United States –
normalized relations. And the third area how Vietnam opened up its economy to
global integration, through “active, proactive integration.”
Domestic reforms were spurred by the breakdown of Soviet-style central planning
and an economy of “aggravated shortages” of consumer goods.
Vietnam’s path to normalization was a twenty-year process that picked up
momentum after Vietnam and the United States agreed a “full accounting” for
American service personnel who went missing-in-action” (MIA) was a humanitarian
one. As Vietnam cooperated in the search for and repatriation of the remains of
missing US service personnel, the US responded by gradually lifting sanctions.
Vietnam opened up its economy under the framework of “diversifying and
multilateralizing” external relations and becoming “a reliable partner to all.” Initially
this was focused on encouraging direct foreign investment, membership in the
World Trade Organisation and bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.
Vietnam pursued its objectives by negotiating agreements on comprehensive and
strategic partnerships with all the major powers and other important countries.
Q2. When it comes to the concept of th eVietnam Model, what does it mean exactly
mean? What characteristics does the Vietnam Model have?
ANSWER: The term Vietnam Model came back in vogue after Secretary of State
spoke to a group of businessmen in Hanoi and noted that trade between Vietnam
and the United States grew by more than 8,000 per cent in the last decade. If North
Korea gave up its nuclear weapons, it could also grow rich like Vietnam. Pompeo
then said, “I say all of this because it is important, but I hope that the United States,
that one day we can share the same relationship with North Korea.”

Because the Trump Administration has only spoken in generalities it was left to
academics and other observers to define what the Vietnam Model meant. In other
words, it is a vague concept that means different things to different people.
Kim Jong-un reportedly has been quoted as making favorable remark about
Singapore and his preference for Vietnamese reforms over China’s.
The key aspects of the Vietnam Model, in my opinion, are the end of Soviet-style
central planning, introduction material incentives, recognition of the role of the
private sector, equitization of state-owned enterprises, encouragement of foreign
direct investment – all conducted initially under the framework of a “market
economy with socialist orientations” and now, a “socialist market economy.”
Q3. Why did Vietnam want to host the second Trump-Kim summit? By hosting the
Trump-Kim summit, what can Vietnam get from it?
ANSWER: Vietnam has for some time stated that it supports efforts to bring peace to
the Korean peninsula. Nearly a decade ago it quietly hosted talks between Japan and
North Korea on the vexed issue of family reunion. Later Vietnam play a role in
getting North Korea to become a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum. And, in
recent years, North Korea has sent students and occasional study missions to
Vietnam to study its economic reforms or what the Vietnamese call doi moi or
When the United States and North Korea began discussions on the first summit
meeting, North Korea reportedly favored holding the meeting in Asia preferably in
the capital city of the current ASEAN Chair. That was one factor in Singapore’s
selection. When discussions turned to a second summit the media reported three
possible venues, Thailand, Hawaii and Vietnam. Although Thailand was ASEAN Cahir
Bangkok was ruled out because of the risk of political instability.
When Vietnam came under consideration two cities were discussed – Hanoi and Da
Nang. North Korea favored Hanoi because it was in flying distance from Pyongyang
and it hosted an embassy that could provide administrative and logistics support. In
addition, Chairman Kim reportedly wanted to make an official visit to signal that
North Korea was not diplomatically isolated. The United States favored Da Nang as
their first choice. It was a smaller more modern city than Hanoi with less traffic
congestion. The airport was near the city, accessible, and not as busy as Hanoi. Also,
President Trump has stayed there for the APEC Summit in 2017. Trump also paid a
state visit to Hanoi at that time.
The decision to hold the second summit in Hanoi was made in Pyongyang at the
recent round of North Korea-United States pre-summit consultations.
Vietnam obviously wanted to host the second Trump-Kim summit because it would
bring enormous prestige to Vietnam to be seen as facilitating the peace process on
the Korean peninsula. Since denuclearization will take many years to achieve
Vietnam can expect to play a role not only as host for the second summit but also as
ASEAN Chair in 2020 and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council
the following year.

Chairman Kim will arrive in Hanoi on 25th February prior to the summit. He is
scheduled to visit the Hai Phong Industrial Park and Ha Long Bay on Vietnam’s
northeast coast facing the Gulf of Tonkin (Beibu). Kim is also scheduled to meet
President and Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong. This will raise bilateral relations
and provide future opportunities to share its relevant experiences in economic
reform, normalization and international integration with North Korea.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “North Korea and the Vietnam Model,” Thayer
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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.