Vietnam an appropriate growth model for North Korea: former envoy

By Viet Anh   July 1, 2018 | 05:00 pm PT
Vietnam an appropriate growth model for North Korea: former envoy
Duong Chinh Thuc, former Vietnam ambassador to North Korea. Photo acquired by VnExpress
The countries share much of historical and political background, Duong Chinh Thuc tells VnExpress.

As North Korea is apparently taking steps to opening its door, insiders and international observants have expressed confidence that Vietnam would be a top model, especially in how it has turned the U.S. from a war enemy into a major business and security partner.

Duong Chinh Thuc, former Vietnam ambassador to North Korea and South Korea, who spent more than 20 years studying and working in the North from the 1960s, told VnExpress about the historical and political resemblance that would make Vietnam an "appropriate" example for Kim Jong Un.

Can you comment on reports that Kim Jong Un considered Vietnam a model for North Korea’s economic development?

That is certainly appropriate because North Korea and Vietnam share many similarities. Both countries were affected by war, both were isolated by the U.S. and other nations, and both have had agriculture spearhead national growth.

Vietnam and North Korea are also led by Communist parties, and share a lot of cultural commonalities, too.

From 1975 to 1986, Vietnam spared no effort to recover from its wars. In 1986, it successfully opened up to the world and began slowly integrating itself globally. Compared to 30 years ago, Vietnam has changed so much. I believe North Korea can do the same.

There have been opinions that North Korea can follow Singapore's steps, but I don’t think that Singapore is an appropariate model for North Korea’s development, since Singapore aims for a capitalistic economy and has multiple parties, which is very different compared to North Korea.

What can North Korea learn from Vietnam?

North Korea can look at how Vietnam got out of its isolated state after the war, and learn more about how Vietnam has become an important partner to the U.S. It can also discuss with Vietnam about open economy policies and exchange experience over legal steps such as the establishment of laws for attracting foreign investment.

The biggest challenge North Korea currently faces is the lack of funds. North Korea already has a strong agricultural base, so with sufficient funds, it won’t take much time before the country is able to recover. Vietnam used to suffer food shortage in 1984, but it quickly started to export rice two years later, right after opening its doors. North Korea’s population is just 25 million people, so its agriculture sector can totally support itself, both for domestic consumption and export.

What should be North Korea’s political approach?

Before a country decides to open itself to the world, it needs to consider all aspects, including politics, economy, culture and security. Back in 1986 and 1987, though, Vietnam’s main concern was only economic reforms.

It should be noted that by opening itself, a country might risk opening its doors to foreign interference, which could spark political instability. North Korea would face a bigger risk than Vietnam as it shares the border with South Korea, and we'd never know if there would be a wave of people fleeing to the South. The foreign impact is also all more relevant for North Korea, since many countries are eyeing its market, like China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the U.S.

I think Beijing always wants to keep Pyongyang under its control, so it will be a big challange for North Korea.

If North Korea decides to open its doors, what are the advantages it will enjoy?

North Korea already has a strong base when it comes to industrial development. By the late 1970s, it had already produced about 70-80 Kwh of power, and in the early 1990s, it had aimed to produce 1 trillion Kwh. It also received support from socialist allies including the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries and China.

North Korea is also blessed with natural resources, with gold, zinc, coal and rare earth, much more than in the southern part of the peninsula. With around 25 million people living over an area of 120,000 square kilometers, the burden for the economy is not much. Additionally, North Korea’s infrastructure has not been  ravaged by wars like Vietnam.

If North Korea opens itself, many countries would pour their money in. No one would want to be the latecomers.

What are possible challenges for North Korea?

North Korea is currently slapped with heavier embargoes than Vietnam used to be, due to its nuclear and missile programs, and it is also very isolated from the rest of the world. Moreover, if there is a change in the U.S. and South Korean administrations, their stance vis a vis North Korea could change for the worse.

It has not received much support from the socialist allies since the early 1990s, while help from China has been reluctant.

What should North Korea do to get rid of its isolation?

It should carry on with the denuclearization agreement with the U.S. and South Korea in order to have the embargo removed. It will not happen immediately however, and might take years before the denuclearization process is completed. No one can say anything for sure, since the Trump administration has a history of being fickle in its policies.

I believe North Korea is and should be serious about the denuclearization process, because there is no other way getting around the U.S. embargo. Pyongyang's 2016 Resolution set economic development a higher priority than national defense. Kim Jong Un can be a more open person than his father and grandfather, and he may want to build North Korea under a new image.

*Duong Chinh Thuc currently serves as Vice President of the Vietnam – Republic of Korea Friendship Association.

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