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Kim to tour Vietnam this week

North Korean leader will visit the hub of industrial growth
Feb 28,2019
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will follow his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump with a slew of events in Vietnam that will last through Sunday, according to the North’s state media.

Kim arrived in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi after a 66-hour train ride across the Chinese mainland Tuesday. He will stay in Vietnam for a total of six days, meeting with local officials and visiting industrial facilities in the country following his summit with Trump.

According to the North’s state-run Central News Agency, Kim’s schedule beyond the summit with the United States will be part of “an official goodwill visit” to Vietnam at the invitation of the country’s president and general secretary of its ruling Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong.

Kim is expected to conduct a series of ceremonial visits to major landmarks in Hanoi, such as the mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh, the country’s iconic revolutionary leader who led it through its war of independence from France.

The mausoleum is located in a central square surrounded by government buildings like the Presidential Palace. Ba Dinh District, which houses these buildings and is Vietnam’s political center, is under special traffic control rules until Saturday.

Those visits will likely be followed with talks and a possible banquet with Vietnam’s top political leaders like Chairman Nguyen and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, who presides over the country’s cabinet and legislature.

Yet perhaps the most anticipated part of Kim’s Vietnam tour is his confirmed visit to the country’s industrial areas in the nearby port city of Haiphong, located around 110 kilometers (68 miles) from Hanoi.

Top North Korean officials - including Pyongyang’s foreign affairs chief Ri Su-yong and senior economics official O Su-yong - were spotted scouting out automobile and smartphone factories in the area on Wednesday in preparation for Kim’s tour.

The Vietnamese government verified that Kim will be taking a tour around the factories of the local conglomerate Vingroup, one of the country’s largest private enterprises. Haiphong has an automobile factory run by the company’s automaker Vinfast and a mobile phone factory run by Vinsmart, both of which Kim is slated to visit.

A sign welcoming Kim in Korean was also spotted at the entrance to the Vinfast factory. The city is also home to factories belonging to South Korean company LG Electronics, which invested $1.5 billion to open facilities there in 2015.

While there was great speculation in the international press about Kim possibly visiting a Samsung Electronics smartphone factory in Bac Ninh, just north of Hanoi, there is little to indicate that the North Korean leader will do so.

It is no coincidence that Kim is devoting such a heavy portion of his visit to his tour of Vietnam.

Vietnam in many ways serves as a role model for North Korea as it prepares to undertake its own transformation, given the similarities between the two socialist countries.

In 1986, Vietnam enacted massive reforms to its heavily planned economy by freeing up private enterprises and investing in an export-oriented manufacturing sector.

These so-called Doi Moi reforms, inspired by those of its fellow communist neighbor, China, allowed a flood of foreign capital to enter the once largely agrarian and impoverished nation, and transform it into a vibrant industrial economy.

In Hanoi on Wednesday, President Trump also mentioned Vietnam’s growing prosperity in a tweet, adding “North Korea would be the same, and very quickly” if it were willing to lay down its nuclear program and open up to the world.

Provided the summit produces concrete progress toward that goal, Kim’s tour of the country - the first time a North Korean head of state has visited Vietnam in 55 years - could signal the beginning of just such a miracle.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]