Da Nang, Vietnam: the ‘decadent refuge’ expected to host Trump-Kim summit

08-Feb-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

US President Donald Trump has confirmed his second meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will take place in Vietnam from February 27 to 28.

Experts say they are most likely to meet in the coastal city of Da Nang, which hosted last year’s Apec summit as well as the World Economic Forum.

Trump confirmed the meeting would take place in Vietnam during his State of the Union address late on Tuesday, also using the occasion to praise the progress made in the “historic push for peace on the Korean peninsula”.

Donald Trump names Vietnam for summit with Kim Jong-un

“Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months,” Trump said during the address. “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea.

“Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong-un is a good one,” he added.

While Trump has often portrayed the first meeting between the two leaders in Singapore last year as a breakthrough, critics say it has yet to produce significant progress in the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Some experts say North Korea is likely to use the second summit to seek to trade the destruction of its main Yongbyon nuclear complex for a US promise to formally declare the end of the 1950-53 Korean war, open a liaison office in Pyongyang and allow the North to resume lucrative economic projects with South Korea.

Sources familiar with discussions between China and the US told the South China Morning Post earlier that Da Nang was expected to host a two-day meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping on February 27.

Vietnam is a convenient choice for Kim, who flies only a restricted distance and otherwise travels by armoured train. It is also home to both US and North Korean embassies and enjoys friendly ties with both nations.

Hanoi has maintained diplomatic ties with Pyongyang since 1950, though the last North Korean leader to visit was Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung in 1958.

Vietnam could also be an important location for the US, which is currently locked in a trade war with China one of North Korea’s closest allies.

Cheon Seong Whun, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said Trump could use Vietnam to “signal to Beijing that North Korea is not in your hands, we have a counterbalance to Chinese influence in this area”.

Due to its recent role as a summit host city, experts suggest Da Nang is a more likely location for the meeting than Hanoi. The city, with a population of about 1 million, hosted thousands of officials and foreign dignitaries for the 2017 Apec summit and World Economic Forum. It built a new international airport terminal in May 2017 and has invested millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades.

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“I would love for Da Nang to be the host,” said Huynh Tan Vinh, the city’s tourism association chair. “The city is not too busy, just right. The city meets security requirements from its experience organising Apec 2017.”

Stephen Biegun, the US special envoy to North Korea, was in Pyongyang on Wednesday to discuss the upcoming meeting between the two leaders with his counterpart, Kim Hyok Chol. Biegun said he would aim for “a road map of negotiations and declarations going forward, and a shared understanding of the desired outcomes of our joint efforts”.

“Biegun has been invested with a wide berth in carrying out negotiations in Pyongyang, where quick decisions by the highest North Korean authority are available,” said Shin Beom-chul from Seoul’s Asan Institute. “This combination of factors will help secure a deal fast and efficiently.”

Since last year’s Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, North Korea has returned three US hostages, the remains of US troops killed during the Korean war, and destroyed a missile testing site which experts suspect had been damaged to the point of no longer being operational. A United Nations report this week said North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes “remain intact” and its leaders are dispersing missile assembly and testing facilities to prevent “decapitation” strikes.

Why Vietnam is perfect for Trump-Kim summit

Da Nang’s Furama Resort, which also hosted the 2017 Apec meetings, has been floated as a location for the next Trump-Kim summit. Huynh Tan Vinh, the resort’s director, said the city would be a better choice than Hanoi for logistical and security reasons.

“Even if we are informed just three hours in advance, we can still meet all the requirements,” he said, recalling the time the city hosted the Greek president and a 200-person delegation within that time frame.

Da Nang has been the site of several historically important moments in Vietnamese history. The French landed there in 1858 and the US marines in 1965.

The US base in the area was used to store Agent Orange, a chemical deployed during the Vietnam war which led to cancer, birth defects and a host of other health problems for multiple generations of Vietnamese citizens.

Da Nang was known during the war as “a decadent refuge known for prostitution as well as human rights violations”, said Sung-Yoon Lee, professor of Korea studies at The Fletcher School. “These days, it has turned into a decadent capitalist getaway for young people.

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“I have a hard time imagining Trump and Kim each riding on an elephant walking through a stream,” said Lee, alluding to one of the city’s most popular tourist activities.

“Vietnam is the perfect model for North Korea,” Lee said. “You too can remain a single-party communist dictatorship but also grow your economy.”

Since US sanctions were lifted in 1994, Vietnam has become one of Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economies. In December, Kim sent Foreign minister Ri Yong-ho to Vietnam to study the country’s doi moi reforms, which helped revolutionise the economy after they were enacted in the 1980s.

Washington is also keen to show off Vietnam’s economic success story, touted by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to the country last year.

“Your country can replicate this path. It’s yours if you’ll seize the moment,” Pompeo said in remarks aimed at Kim.

“It can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”



Category: Korea

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