On February 5, US President Donald Trump in his second state of the union address announced that he and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong Un will meet in Vietnam on 27-28 February in the capital Hanoi. This is called as II Trump-Kim Summit, the previous being held in Singapore on June 12 last year. The preferred place for both the summits surprised the whole world and were much curious to know the reasons behind the selection of host countries. Undoubtedly, this is a question which would come in any layman’s mind and it needs to be addressed.
While analysing the background of being chosen as the host countries, we need to go back to the history. Both Singapore and Vietnam have emerged from complete abandonment and from the bottom. Earlier Singapore was chosen because of its mutual and healthy relationship with both the United States and North Korea. Singapore's good relations with the US never affected their diplomatic relations with North Korea which the Washington also wanted the same as it desired to keep some doors open for dialogue with Pyongyang.
Same is the case with Vietnam, with whom both the countries have diplomatic relations since Hanoi attained independence, which is now more than 50 years old. Communism is the main aspect which binds North Korea and Vietnam together, while the US sees Vietnam as a potential partner in the ASEAN. As per DW’s report, Kim Jong Un at several occasions has expressed his desire to adopt Vietnam’s economic and political model. Despite having a single party system and communism as the state ideology, Vietnam has grown rapidly and it has developed its economic and trade relations with the United States and several European states, particularly in the European Union.
Picking Vietnam as a host country became possible due to the existing scepticism towards each other. Kim Jong Un has an issue with the CIA agents and their work, that’s why he didn’t prefer to go to the US. Another issue is that North Korea doesn’t have a state-sponsored aircraft which can hover day and night or more, though Kim procured a Chinese airplane to visit Singapore last year. Likewise, the United States also shares similar concerns, such as the security of President Trump in Pyongyang due to the unawareness of the administration of North Korea. With major concerns instilled on both sides, Vietnam became a suitable option for Trump and Kim to hold their second bilateral summit.
On May 2017, within six months of Trump’s presidency, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc paid a visit to the US where Donald Trump himself hosted him in the White House. After few months, Trump visited Vietnam during his tour of South and East Asian countries. It is important to note that the United States and Vietnam had a bloody past. The US was involved in a war with Vietnam for a decade till 1975 in which about 60,000 American troops were killed and Vietnam was almost out of control. The US imposed sanctions on Vietnam after its shocking defeat, but both the countries have overcome the past and now have good economic as well as trading relations.
Vietnam in the ’90s was at the same place where North Korea is today. An isolated country which was facing the decade long post-war trauma has now become Asia’s fastest growing economy in the recent decade. In 1986 Vietnam adopted the ‘Doi Moi’ (Open Door) policy that transformed Vietnam into a market economy from socialist centralised economy. Vietnam’s rapid growth and economic structures aligns with the interests of the USA despite having a communist government. America’s ongoing trade war with China due to its billions of dollar trade deficit and Chinese protectionist policy will certainly attract Vietnam due to heavy market demands and Vietnam and USA had signed Comprehensive Partnership in 2013.
Vietnam is a key player in the South China Sea as it has historical claims on the Spratly and Paracel islands that had led to a maritime war with the Chinese forces in the’80s. Both Vietnam and USA are committed for the freedom of navigation and reverence of UNCLOS.
The US needs Vietnam due to emerging significant challenges in the South East Asian region, especially due to the aggressiveness of China in the South China Sea region.
Trump-Kim summit II is a continuation of Summit I that was previously held in Singapore, and will again focus on the denuclearization promises by North Korea. Korean Peninsula since its division in 1955 has witnessed persistent conflict between South Korea and North Korea. But due to South Korea’s partnership with the United States, it became one of the economic giants in the world. South Korea used loud speakers facing towards North Korea to accelerate the confusion, and infuse aggression in the people and the army respectively towards the Chairman Kim and the family thought they can revolt. In the very response, North Korea started building nuclear bombs and missile in the place of economy, development, food, and welfare of its people. It has threatened South Korea due to the propaganda announcement spread by it. The USA also came on the radar due to its sanctions on it and its close relations with South Korea.
We can call Trump-Kim Summit I a huge success in a way as North Korea agreed on denuclearization which has to be done yet but it stopped the further missile and nuclear testing. It was for the first time a sitting US President met a North Korean supreme leader.
No one ever thought that President Trump and Kim summit could be possible. President Trump's unexpected way of dealing with things, tug of war on Twitter and due to these tug of war once proposed Trump-Kim summit also got cancelled.
President Trump’s unpredictable way of dealing with things had worked for him and also in the case of North Korea’s nuclear issue. The nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula has encircled not only America but also North Korea’s neighbour and America’s strong ally South Korea and Japan whose security is America’s responsibility since the World War II and the Korean War. North Korea not only makes nuclear weapons but also it had made a hydrogen bomb test, which caused an alarming situation all over the world. But after ifs and buts Kim Jong Un came on the negotiation table and agreed on denuclearization, arms race, and missile testing. Kim also wanted these kinds of talks where he can negotiate something big for his country. After Summit I he demanded the UN lift sanctions imposed on North Korea.
So this summit will definitely boost the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and also it will reduce the tension between South and North Korea and also with the USA. USA has chosen Vietnam for summit II to mainly reduce the Chinese leverage on North Korea.
Vietnam is also an important strategic partner in USA’s Indo Pacific strategy. Certainly, this is going to be the milestone summit both for USA and North Korea and also for Vietnam who is the host for this high-profile summit. The whole world is looking towards Vietnam and its capabilities that made Vietnam as a host of this summit.
(Keshav Jha is a research intern at Centre for Vietnam Studies and student at Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Jamia Millia Islamia)