How Vietnam’s Transition Experience May be Helpful for North Korea Today

The recent visit of the DPRK’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho to Hanoi and the announcement that Vietnam will host a second summit between US President Trump and DPRK leader Kim Jong Un on February 27-28 have rekindled interest in how Vietnam’s success story might have relevance for North Korea today. In the late 1980s, both countries faced poor-performing state-led economies, over-dependence on China, and the economic shock of sharp reductions in Soviet aid and trade. While economic crises gripped both countries, their strategic choices in response could not have been more different. Vietnam chose to embark on economic reforms, end its occupation of Cambodia, downsize its military, improve relations with the US, and open itself to the international community for aid, investment and trade. North Korea responded by adopting isolationist, self-reliant economic policies, seeking improved inter-Korean relations, increasing military tensions by pursuing a nuclear weapons program and a confrontational policy toward the US, and appealing for humanitarian assistance from the international community in the face of economic collapse and a growing famine.

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