Pyongyang can learn from Hanoi, Beijing about reform

By Yang Sheng and Bai Yunyi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/25 22:58:40 Last Updated: 2019/2/26 22:13:16

Vietnamese soldiers guard an entrance to Dong Dang railway station on Monday. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was expected to arrive there ahead of the second US-North Korea summit. Photo: AFP

North Korea can learn from experiences of socialist China and Vietnam on economic development but needs to find its own path rather than copy others, Chinese and Vietnamese experts said on Monday as the world eyed North Korea ahead of a summit with the US for hints of future reforms and opportunities.

The second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump is scheduled to take place in Hanoi, capital of Vietnam, on Wednesday and Thursday. 

Choosing Vietnam as the venue for a second summit shows the US hopes North Korea can walk the Vietnamese path, the analysts opined.

"In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong-un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on a trip to Vietnam in July 2018.

"It's yours if you'll seize the moment. The miracle could be yours. It can be your miracle in North Korea as well," Pompeo said, according to the website of the US Department of State.

Observers suggested the reason why the US wants North Korea to choose the path of Vietnam is based on its US Asia-Pacific strategy.

Vietnam is not a country that North Korea wants to become, especially in the field of politics, said Zheng Jiyong, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University based in Shanghai. 

"In economic areas, North Korea could probably learn from Vietnam's experience of attracting foreign investment, but the Vietnamese political system is definitely not an option for North Korea," Zheng said.

Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that if the US wants to make North Korea "another Vietnam" then Washington will be disappointed for sure. 

For North Korea, the survival of the regime, or in other words, its political security and stability, is always top priority and this won't change no matter what kind of relationship it has with the US, Lü said. 

"Compared to economic development, political stability always has a higher priority in North Korea and the former is a significant measure to serve the latter," he said.

Major differences

Vietnam and North Korea have some similarities, such as wars with the US and governance under a strong socialist party, he noted. 

But the differences are also major, Lü said: Vietnam realized unification through war, but North Korea did not. North Korea has nuclear weapons that can threaten the US but Vietnam does not. Compared with the highly concentrated political authority in North Korea, the Vietnamese political system is more diverse. 

North Korea can learn "democracy within the party" from Vietnam, a former Vietnamese official told the Global Times, and so could activate the party's potential for innovation.

The condition of North Korea today is better than Vietnam in the 1980s, Nguyen Vinh Quang, a former official responsible for China and Northeast Asia affairs at the international department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), noted in an email sent to the Global Times on Saturday. 

So if the North Korean government decides to further its opening-up process, it can create a better environment for development, he believed.

Promoting a market economy, abandoning the highly concentrated governance style and bureaucracy [in economic fields]: These are Vietnam's experiences from which North Korea could learn, Nguyen Vinh Quang wrote.

To adapt to a market economy and the differences between northern and southern Vietnam, "a diverse political system was acceptable for the CPV that might just cause low efficiency and controllable instability, but de-concentration of political authority is unimaginable for North Korea," said Lü. 

But Nguyen Vinh Quang also noted that North Korea could not "just simply copy another country's model."

"It should selectively learn experiences from China and Vietnam, based on its own national condition," he said.

Unshakable authority 

Lü Chao, the research fellow from Liaoning, noted that in the 1980s-1990s, Vietnam was actively asking the US to normalize ties and remove a trade embargo.

That made it easy for Washington to push Hanoi into accepting its conditions on politics, he noted.

North Korea is not the same case at all. 

"North Korea has nuclear weaponry and the US is asking North Korea to denuclearize and so the leverage in Pyongyang's hands makes Washington uneasy," Lü said.

"That means North Korea can use its own measures to develop its economy rather than be forced to make reforms that damage its political security."

North Korea has already started seeking advice from Vietnam on economic development, Viet Nam News reported on November 29.

While meeting with visiting North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho in Hanoi in November 2018, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh said Vietnam was ready to share its socio-economic development and nation building experience with North Korea, the Vietnamese state-owned media outlet reported.

Vietnam was willing to share experiences with North Korea about expanding external economic ties, attracting investment and developing tourism, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc was quoted as saying when he met Ri in Hanoi on December 2, 2018.

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