Southeast Asia: Venue for Second North Korea-United States Summit

By Mai Phan

After more than half a century of mistrust and tension, North Korea and the United States held the first ever face-to-face meeting their head-of-states to address the problem of denuclearization on the Korean peninsula last year in 2018. [1] The Singapore Summit, therefore, paved way for the second meeting in the development of long-term peace in Northeast Asia. Only eight months later, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un have come together to Hanoi, Vietnam on 27-28 February 2019 for the second summit. To reflect upon the second DPRK-USA summit, this article will attempt to explain why ASEAN and Vietnam are a favorable destination for such historic meetings.

First of all, Southeast Asia is one of the most economically-dynamic region in the world. ASEAN combines ten developed and developing member states, including Singapore, which has the eighth highest nominal GDP per capita in the world, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, and Indonesia, which also have some of the highest GDP growth rates in the world. In comparison to other economic-blocs, ASEAN has been largely successful in maintain regional stabilization and peace, fending off from many political tensions, and developing strong relationships with major global economies. [2] Dynamic economies, political stability, and neutral attitude have given ASEAN the advantage to host the historic DPRK-USA Summit twice.

Second, Vietnam was selected to host the second meetings because it holistically meets standards, including a reputation for organizing large international events such as the 2017 APEC conference, strong diplomatic relations with both the U.S. and North Korea, and historical similarities with North Korea.


Historical Similarity with North Korea: What does it mean for Trump and Kim?

Prior to the Doi Moi reform of 1986, Vietnam maintained a socialist economic system that engaged in the state planning of production, distribution, and pricing. Similarly, North Korea has also maintained a centrally planned economic system since its founding in the 1945. In 1986, the National Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam launched a political and economic renewal campaign aiming towards creating an open market. Since then, Vietnam has experienced incredible economic growth as nominal GDP grew from 23.9 billion USD to 175.2 billion USD in thirty years. [3] The country now engages actively in international trade and receives tremendous foreign direct investment. By selecting Vietnam as the host of the bilateral conference the United States hopes North Korea’s leader could perceive changes by learning from Vietnam’s successful model.

While Vietnam is a model of economic modernization from the United States’ perspective, Vietnam also serves as a dream national unification from the North Korean perspective. Vietnam and North Korea were both divided by international ideological conflicts during the early Cold War, but today one country is unified, and the other one is divided into two distinct states with different development. The special relations between Hanoi and Pyongyang can be spoken in words of common political ideology.


Vietnam’s Diplomatic Relations with the United States and North Korea

After the historical similarities, Vietnam is chosen due to its strong political and economic relations with both countries. After the Vietnam War, the United States and Vietnam normalized diplomatic relations in 1995 and initiated decades of intimated relationship between the two former opponents. Since the normalization, every President of the United States from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump has visited Vietnam in formal bilateral meetings. Those official visits play a major role in enhancing diplomatic relationship and reducing the economic distance between the two countries. During a presidential visit to Vietnam in 2016, President Obama lifted arms embargo on Vietnam, marking a big step of defense cooperation. From an economic perspective, Vietnam has now become the United States’ 16th largest trading partner with $54.6 billion in total. [4] More than ever, the United States and Vietnam have become closers in both political means and economic partnership.

Different from the United States- Vietnam relations, DPRK-Vietnam relations mostly derive from the commonality of political ideology- the one-party system. The two countries established formal relations in 1950. Since then, Vietnam and North Korea do not actively engage in economic partnership, but both countries remain in contact. In 2010, North Korean Minister of Commerce paid a visit to Vietnam in exchange learning of agriculture, science, and entertainment. Also, Vietnam is among few countries in which North Korea embassy resides.

Vietnam’s Experience in Organizing International Events

Last but not least, the successful of APEC 2017 shows that Vietnam is capable of ensuring the safety of international events’ participants. In 2017, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) 2017 was organized in Danang, Vietnam which marked the second time Vietnam hosted APEC since 2006. The events hosted more than twenty-seven leaders across the world including President Trump of the United States. The success of APEC 2017 has spread Vietnam’s reputation around the world as a peaceful and safe nation. Hence, as security is the prime priority of the Trump-Kim meeting, Vietnam is chosen to host this summit.

In an interview, Le Hoai Trung, the Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced that “security will be at the maximum level”. [5] And hundred percent of police officers, as well as the military force, are deployed to protect the second Trump-Kim summit. Vietnam, through its professionalism in organizing this event, has demonstrated to the world its ability to organize such an important event.

Overall, the international community has recognized the diplomatic importance of ASEAN and Vietnam through the Trump-Kim summit. Rather than any region in the world, Southeast Asia is honored to host the DPRK-USA meeting twice in two consecutive years. Southeast Asia has thus developed competitive advantages to organize DPRK-USA summit twice due to rapid economic growth, political stability, and foremost, neutral attitude towards major powers. Additionally, Vietnam was selected as the host for the second summit because it meets combination of standards such as Vietnam has reputation for organizing international events, diplomatic relations with both US and North Korea, and historical similarity to North Korea. Both the United States and North Korea interpret Vietnam as the model for the own interests while the summit is a chance for Vietnam to advertise the country’s image abroad. In final words, I hope the meeting will conclude with peace agreement and some measurable achievements.


Mai Phan is a junior at Lebanon Valley College where she studies Global Studies and Politics.. She is the Journal’s 2018-19 Correspondent for Southeast Asian Affairs.

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