North Korea FM in Vietnam for lessons on economic reform

Mr Ri Yong Ho is expected to meet leaders in Hanoi, visit a hi-tech zone and speak to agricultural experts, according to state media and diplomatic sources.
Mr Ri Yong Ho is expected to meet leaders in Hanoi, visit a hi-tech zone and speak to agricultural experts, according to state media and diplomatic sources.PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (AFP) - North Korea's Foreign Minister kicked off an official visit to Vietnam on Friday (Nov 30) as the hermit nation seeks to learn lessons from the one-party state's post-war economic reform that has transformed the communist nation into one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

Mr Ri Yong Ho is expected to meet leaders in Hanoi and visit a high-tech zone and speak to agricultural experts, according to state media and diplomatic sources.

North Korea, with an economy long crippled by wide-ranging sanctions and years of self-imposed isolation, is seeking to learn from Vietnam's "doi moi" economic reforms introduced in the 1980s, according to Seoul's official Yonhap News Agency.

Vietnam's economy has flourished as it has embraced market reforms, opened its doors to foreign investment and embraced free trade deals, with gross domestic product growth hitting 5 per cent or higher for the past decade.

It has done so while maintaining a single-party state with a tight grip on power and little tolerance for dissent, a model that experts say could appeal to Pyongyang.

It may be using the current diplomatic thaw following a series of meetings with Seoul and Washington - including a landmark summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in June - to disarm its nuclear programme, Vietnam expert Carl Thayer told AFP.

"North Korea is using this period of not testing (its nuclear weapons) to recover its external relations to appear as a respectable member of the international community," said Dr Thayer, emeritus politics professor at the University of New South Wales in Canberra.

Mr Ri has visited Iran, Russia, China, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan this year.

 
 

It is an approach encouraged by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who, on a trip to Vietnam in July, remarked on the "once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership" between former war foes Hanoi and Washington.

"Your country can replicate this path. It's yours if you'll seize the moment. The miracle could be yours; it can be your miracle in North Korea as well," he said in comments aimed at Mr Kim.

A diplomatic source in Hanoi told AFP that Mr Ri is scheduled to visit a technology park near the city and meet experts from the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science.

He will also meet his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh and Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, according to his official schedule.

The visit could be a sign that Pyongyang is looking to expand from its reliance on China - its largest trading partner and one of its closest allies.

"They want to expand their economic relations with other countries and not be completely depend on China," Dr Kevin Gray, professor of international relations at University of Sussex, told AFP.

Vietnam and North Korea established diplomatic relations in 1950, though there has been little in the way of trade following UN sanctions passed last year aimed at cutting off Pyongyang's revenue streams.

Hanoi's exports to Pyongyang reached US$7.3 million (S$10 million), mainly of food products, according to official data.