Kim looks to Vietnam, China for economic inspiration

SEOUL/BEIJING • If next month's planned summit with US President Donald Trump turns out well and leads to an easing of sanctions on North Korea, its leader Kim Jong Un looks likely to tap the experiences of China and Vietnam to open up his country's economy, reported a Japanese newspaper.

China and Vietnam have had experience introducing market forces into previously closed economies in the 1970s and 1980s respectively.

A North Korean delegation including Workers' Party of Korea vice-chairman Pak Thae Song, a key aide of Mr Kim, arrived in Beijing on Monday.

The group has visited Zhongguancun, also known as China's Silicon Valley, and met President Xi Jinping on Wednesday.

At his meeting with Mr Xi, Mr Pak said he had been entrusted with consolidating recent agreements between Mr Kim and Mr Xi at their recent summits as well as studying China's model of economic development and "reform and opening".

"We will play an active role in carrying out our party's new strategic line of prioritising economic development," Mr Pak was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency.

Mr Pak was accompanied by senior party officials representing major provinces and cities of North Korea, reported Yonhap news agency.

Mr Kim is extremely interested in developing his country's economy, reported Nikkei Asian Review yesterday. He decided at a party meeting last month to take back his signature two-track policy on nuclear development and economic growth and announced a new focus on the economy.

Mr Xi, on his part, has expressed support for North Korea's new shift to focus on economic development.

Mr Kim, reported the Nikkei Asian Review, hopes to follow in the footsteps of China and Vietnam.

Under the open-door policy introduced by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1978, China opened up its economy to foreign investors, setting the then impoverished economy on a trail-blazing path to become the world's second-largest economy.

Critics at the time accused Mr Deng of bringing capitalism back to China. But he argued that as long as the Communist Party remained in charge, the nation would not stray from its socialist ideals.

The Nikkei report said Mr Xi threw his support behind a similar change in North Korea when meeting the young North Korean leader this month, their second meeting in as many months.

China is North Korea's most important trading partner and has long sought to convince its neighbour to follow Beijing's path of enacting free market reforms while maintaining tight single-party rule.

At his April 27 historic summit with South Korean President Moon Jae In, Mr Kim said that he aims for Vietnam-style reforms, the South's Maeil Business Newspaper reported. The South-east Asian nation launched its Doi Moi reform campaign in 1986, paving the way for joining the World Trade Organisation in 2007 and continued economic growth. Its reforms have also been modelled after the Chinese approach.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2018, with the headline 'Kim looks to Vietnam, China for economic inspiration'. Print Edition | Subscribe