N Korea foreign minister begins Vietnam visit

Hanoi: North Korea’s foreign minister kicked off an official visit to Communist Vietnam on Friday, a trip analysts say carries the potential for the hermit nation to learn from Hanoi’s post-war “doi moi” economic transformation.
Vietnam’s economy has flourished since market reforms in the 1990s opened its doors to foreign investment and free trade deals, with GDP growth hitting five per cent or higher for the past decade.
It has done so while maintaining a single-party Communist state with a tight grip on power and little tolerance for dissent.
It is a model that experts say could appeal to Pyongyang —with an economy long crippled by wide-ranging sanctions and years of self-imposed isolation.
While the full plan for Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho’s three-day visit to Vietnam has not been made public, a diplomatic source in Hanoi said he is due to visit a technology park near the city and meet with experts.
He will also meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, according to his official schedule.
North Korea’s regime wants “to expand their economic relations with other countries and not be completely dependent on China,” Kevin Gray, professor of international relations at the University of Sussex said.
“There are also lessons there that North Korea could potentially learn” from Vietnam’s opening up, he added.
Ri’s Hanoi trip also coincides with a current 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.
“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 Carl Thayer, emeritus politics professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra.
Pyongyang “wants to learn from Vietnam’s economic transformation”, he said, with the caveat that Hanoi’s embrace of free trade would be “a bridge too far”.
Economic prosperity is a carrot often dangled by Washington in front of the North in exchange for denuclearisation.
On a July visit to Vietnam US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remarked on the “once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership” between former war foes Hanoi and Washington.
 —AFP