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A long history together (KOR)

Feb 25,2019
The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

The U.S-North Korea summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, will take place this week. In Vietnam, the “Doi Moi” policy is hot. In Vietnamese, Doi Moi literally means “making selling and buying goods easy for the first time.” In Vietnam, free trade is considered innovative.

When U.S. President Donald Trump enticed North Korea with his mention of an “economic rocket,” he was referring to Vietnam. The precedence of normalizing relations after the war also played a part. He is sending a message that North Korea should follow Vietnam’s path.

Vietnam’s history with South Korea, North Korea, the United States and China is complicated. Feb. 17 was the 40th anniversary of the Sino-Vietnamese war. There are no memorial events. The Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences merely held a forum to “part with the past and move to the future” a day earlier. Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, ordered the investigation of the anti-state figures who attempted to take advantage of the northern frontier incident — Vietnam’s official name for the 1979 war with China — to destroy the party’s and the state’s relationships with China. Memorial activities are banned in China too after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Vietnam right after the 19th party congress in 2017.

Then, why did North Korea choose Vietnam? The two countries’ history is a hint. In 1957, Ho Chi Minh visited Pyongyang, and Kim Il Sung visited Hanoi the following year. The two attended the military parade at Tiananmen in Beijing celebrating the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the new China in 1959. Kim stood next to Premier Zhou Enlai and Ho Chi Minh was next to Mao Zedong. After the Gulf of Tonkin incident took place in August 1964, U.S. forces bombed North Vietnam and deployed ground forces there. Kim Il Sung visited Hanoi again in November.

North Korea offered to send troops to North Vietnam, but it turned down the offer. Instead, North Korean MiG units joined the air defense of Hanoi. Eighty-seven pilots carried out Kim Il Sung’s order to defend it as if it were the sky over Pyongyang.

North Korea’s support for Vietnam did not end there. In mid-1965, its strategy against South Korea turned violent. Using the vacuum of troops sent to South Vietnam, North Korea penetrated the South. On Jan. 21, 1968, North Korean guerillas entered South Korea to attack the Blue House. Two days later, the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea during reconnaissance in the East Sea.

Half a century has passed since then. “100,000 Korean residents [70,000 in reality] in Hanoi are preparing a welcoming parade,” said a WeChat message a Korean resident in Beijing showed me. Amid the cheering, the warnings have subsided.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 22, Page 30