Trump’s Strategy in Picking Vietnam to Host Second Trump-Kim Summit
“Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-Un is a good one.”
Last Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un for a second meeting at the end of February to find some agreement on North Korea’s nukes. The location chosen for the meeting is Vietnam – a convenient location but also a choice that sends North Korea a message.
During last week’s State of the Union Address, President Trump was optimistic about working with North Korea, stressing his good relationship with Jong-Un.
“Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-Un is a good one. Chairman Kim and I will meet again on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam,” Trump said in his speech.
Trump also praised his administration for bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table. He added that North Korea has not tested its missiles in the past 15 months. The President also highlighted the recent release of an American detained in North Korea.
Last June, both leaders met in Singapore in a historic summit that attracted worldwide attention. Both sides signed an agreement that focuses on North Korea’s denuclearization effort, though it was short on details. A month before the Singapore meeting, North Korea officially dismantled its nuclear testing site at Punggye-Ri. The last testing at the site was on Sept. 3, 2017.
Why Vietnam For the Second Trump-Kim Summit?
There are a few reasons why Vietnam, once the U.S.’s enemy in the 1960s and 1970s, will be the host of the upcoming summit.
Vietnam is seen as a neutral territory: According to Carl Thayer, Vietnam expert at the University of New South Wales, Australia, Vietnam is a non-partisan host that meets Washington’s and Pyongyang’s requirements. The first North Korean leader to visit Vietnam was Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-Sung in 1958.
The distance: It is not too far from North Korea, so it is easier for Kim to reach by plane. Kim has sacrificed infrastructure improvements for nuclear testing so his air fleet is not as dependable as he might like.
Most significantly, Vietnam can be a role model for North Korea: Vietnam and the U.S. had a bitter relationship for almost 20 years, during and after the Vietnam War. But Hanoi normalized diplomatic ties with Washington, and now Vietnam is one of the fastest-growing economies in Southeast Asia. Trump is likely hoping that Vietnam’s experience and history can inspire North Korea under Kim, who will witness how Vietnam is emerging.
U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed Vietnam’s success story during his visit last year, adding that North Korea can learn from Hanoi.
From Washington’s point of view, Vietnam is a globally strategic location for the U.S., which is in a trade dispute with China, one of North Korea’s closest allies. According to Cheon Seong Whun, a visiting researcher at the Asan Institute, Trump can use Vietnam to warn Beijing that North Korea is not under Beijing’s control and Washington can balance China’s influence in the East Asia region.
Hosting an international summit can boost Vietnam’s status at global communities and help the country to attract tourists and investment, said Le Honh Hiep, a research fellow at the ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
“It can also be a chance for Vietnam to showcase its active foreign policy, through which Vietnam would like to contribute more to the international community, as well as to regional peace and security,” Le added.
What to Expect from the Second Meeting?
World leaders, particularly governments in the Asia-Pacific region, hope that the upcoming talks can produce concrete solutions to create peace in the Korean Peninsula.
Japan said it had high hopes for a “meaningful” summit leading towards the complete denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula. Yoshihide Suga, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary, also mentioned the kidnapping of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, saying that it is one of the most critical issues related to Pyongyang.
A South Korean government spokesperson also said he expected that the upcoming talks can produce more concrete steps. The first meeting between Trump and Kim last June produced vague promises from North Korea since the agreement did not either describe what Kim would do to denuclearize or contain detailed plans on how denuclearization would be carried out.
UN: North Korea Is Still Keeping Its Nukes
Casting doubt on North Korea’s willingness to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and possibly throwing a wrench into talks in Vietnam is a confidential report from the U.N. which claims the communist state is still developing its nuclear and ballistic missiles.
The unnamed diplomat quoted the U.N. bi-annual report in saying that North Korea is moving its nuclear and ballistic weapons to hide them from potential U.S. military strikes, as CNN reported. The news comes on the heels of Trump’s praising of North Korea for its “extraordinary progress” in negotiations.
The diplomat told CNN the confidential report was submitted to the U.N. Security Council Sanction Committee on Feb. 1.
Can the US Speed up North Korean Denuclearization?
North Korea has said it will demolish all facilities at the nuclear site Yongbyon if Washington withdraws troops from South Korea and/or makes a formal treaty to end the Korean War – prompting some analysts to say the ball is in Washington’s court to make sure North Korea will progress in its denuclearization effort. However, U.S. troop removal is unlikely given that South Korea just reached a deal to pay more for U.S. military presence.
As an alternative, the U.S. can offer economic incentives that may be lucrative to North Korea. Washington can help Pyongyang integrate into the global monetary system if the young leader wants dynamic economic development.
For the U.S. there is always the risk that North Korea will merely make token concessions and not tangible steps towards denuclearization.