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Thayer Consultancy Background Brief

ABN # 65 648 097 123

Kim Jong-un to Visit Vietnam
Prior to Summit with Trump
February 16, 2019

Rumors are floating around that Kim Jong-un will make a state visit to Vietnam this
month. If true, it would be his first state visit since assuming power in North Korea.
We request your responses to the following questions:
Q1. What does this visit mean to Vietnam and North Korea? Having Kim in Vietnam as
a guest of state will surely be a diplomat victory for Hanoi, but is there anything else,
apart from symbolism? Maybe the relationship with North Korea will be of some help
to Vietnam in the long term, and vice versa?
ANSWER: Chairman Kim Jong-un’s visit to Vietnam on the eve of the second summit
with President Trump is important to North Korea. It provides an opportunity to break
out of North Korea’s long-standing diplomatic isolation. Kim’s program includes a visit
to the Hai Phong Industrial Park and Ha Long Bay as well as a meeting with Secretary
General Nguyen Phu Trong. It is unclear at this time if Kim will be making an official
state visit.
Kim’s visit provides an opportunity to improve relations with Vietnam but there are
limits to this process due to sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security
Council. Kim’s itinerary suggests he wants to learn about Vietnam’s economic
reforms under đổi mới.
Vietnam will gain enormous international prestige for hosting the Kim-Trump summit.
Kim’s advance visit will raise expectations that Vietnam can play a positive role in
facilitating the peace process on the Korean peninsula. Vietnam is being held out as a
model for North Korea to study. Vietnam’s economic success is being held out as a
“carrot” to encourage North Korea to denuclearize, while UN sanctions are the “stick”
designed to pressure North Korea.
Kim’s visit to Hanoi should not be viewed as a “one off” affair. Denuclearization on the
Korean peninsula will take years to accomplish. In the early part of this process
Vietnam will have a continuing role after the second summit concludes as ASEAN Chair
in 2020 and as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council the year after.
Q2. There is speculation about the relevance of China in this case, since Kim has not
made a state visit to Beijing. What is your take on this?
ANSWER: Kim has made four unofficial visits to Beijing since assuming power. North
Korea is vitally dependent on China to survive and North Korea must take Chinese

interests into account. China and North Korea share the same view that
denuclearization by North Korea is only one part of the process. They would both like
to see the termination of U.S.-South Korea military exercises and the withdrawal of
U.S. forces from South Korea. Both favor a formal peace treaty ending hostilities on
the Korean peninsula; technically there is only an armistice dating back to 1953.
Kim’s visit to Hanoi gives him a degree – a small degree – of leverage in relations with
China because he is expanding the number of countries who have a stake in the peace
process. North Korea under Kim’s leadership has tried to enlist ASEAN and the ASEAN
Regional Forum to promote the idea of “corresponding measures” or reciprocity
during the denuclearization process. In other words, Kim would like to create linkage
between each step he takes to denuclesarize and the easing of UN sanctions.
Q3. If Vietnam were to host the summit only, I assume that its main role would be
providing the venue and security for the meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald
Trump. However, as Hanoi might also welcome Kim as a state guest, can we expect
that Vietnam would be sharing with North Korea its experiences on reforms as well as
the “art of the deal” with the U.S. (the process of normalization from 1973-1995 and
relations with the Trump Administration)? When Kim was in Singapore, was quoted as
saying that he liked the 'Singaporean model', but his visit was not an official one. If
Kim makes an official visit to Vietnam what are the implications, especially for
ANSWER: Whether or not Chairman Kim is given a state visit, it is likely Vietnam will
discuss its experiences in normalizing diplomatic and economic relations with the
United States as well as Vietnam’s experiences in domestic economic reforms and
international integration. Kim’s visit is likely to set the scene for exchanges between
North Korea and Vietnam to discuss these issues. Kim has been quoted as saying
during his visit to Singapore that he favored the Vietnamese model over the Chiinese
Q4. It was first rumored that Kim’s state visit would take place after the summit, now
it is rumored that his visit will occur before his summit meeting with President Trump.
Do you think that timing matters?
ANSWER: It is unclear if Kim will be accorded a state visit. This raises protocol issues
about according President Trump reciprocal treatment. Trump made an official visit in
November 2017 after the APEC Summit. There is no compelling reason to have Trump
make an official visit at this time.
Kim will receive much more publicity and international attention if he visits Hanoi prior
to his summit meeting with Trump. If he made an official visit after the second summit,
it would be overshadowed by that summit. As it stands, Kim’s visit to the Hai Phong
Industrial Park will send an important message to the U.S. that he is interested in
opening up North Korea and expects U.S. and international assistance to accompany

“Kim Jong-un to Visit Vietnam Prior to Summit with Trump,” Thayer Consultancy
Background Brief, February 16, 2019. All background briefs are posted on

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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.