Sat, Dec 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Top N Korea minister visits Vietnam for reform lessons


North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho, left, shakes hands with Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh before a meeting in Hanoi yesterday.

Photo: AFP

North Korea’s foreign minister yesterday began an official visit to Vietnam as the hermit nation seeks to learn lessons from the one-party state’s post-war economic reform that has transformed the communist nation into one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies.

North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho was expected to meet with leaders in Hanoi, visit a high-tech zone and speak to agricultural experts, state media and diplomatic sources said.

North Korea, with an economy long crippled by wide-ranging sanctions and years of self-imposed isolation, is seeking to learn from Vietnam’s doi moi (renovation) economic reforms introduced in the 1980s, South Korea’s official Yonhap news agency said.

Vietnam’s economy has flourished as it has embraced market reforms, opened its doors to foreign investment and embraced free-trade deals, with GDP growth hitting 5 percent or higher for the past decade.

It has done so while maintaining a single-party state with a tight grip on power and little tolerance for dissent, a model that experts have said could appeal to Pyongyang.

Pyongyang might be using a diplomatic thaw following a series of meetings with Seoul and Washington — including a landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump in June — to disarm its nuclear program, Vietnam expert Carl Thayer told reporters.

“North Korea is using this period of not testing [its nuclear weapons] to recover its external relations to appear as a respectable member of the international community,” said Thayer, emeritus politics professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra.

Ri has visited Iran, Russia, China, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan this year.

It is an approach encouraged by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who on a trip to Vietnam in July remarked on the “once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership” between former war foes Hanoi and Washington.

“Your country can replicate this path. 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 in comments aimed at Kim.

A diplomatic source in Hanoi told reporters that Ri is scheduled to visit a technology park near the city and meet with experts from the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

Ri was also set to meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and Vietnamese Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh, his official schedule showed.

The visit could be a sign that Pyongyang is looking to expand from its reliance on China — its largest trading partner and one of its closest allies.

“They want to expand their economic relations with other countries and not be completely dependent on China,” University of Sussex professor of international relations Kevin Gray told reporters.

Vietnam and North Korea established diplomatic relations in 1950, although there has been little in the way of trade following UN sanctions passed last year aimed at cutting off Pyongyang’s revenue streams.

Hanoi’s exports to Pyongyang reached US$7.3 million, mainly of food products, official data showed.

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