|Việt Nam pulled out all the stops to host the two leaders. — VNS Photo Ollie Arci
The second round of talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ended early, with both sides unable to make concrete progress on denuclearisation. A definitive peace deal was just out of reach for the former adversaries. However, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the meaning of this diplomatic event for Việt Nam as host.
This week represents the culmination of a foreign policy strategy that prioritises “independence, self-governance, openness, diversification and multilateralism in international relations,” in this case the hosting of the US-DPRK summit is nothing short of a diplomatic coup. (DPRK is short for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).
Although the result is a little less than hoped for, and many will be disappointed in the lack of resolution, Việt Nam as host provided the best possible conditions for success.
The final reasoning for Việt Nam’s selection as the venue may remain unclear. But the country’s growing position both regionally and globally surely helped to influence the decision. By all accounts, the country has done a sterling job of hosting the two leaders and setting the stage for further negotiations after the first round in Singapore. In presenting and sustaining a neutral setting for the heads of state to meet, Hà Nội has lived up to its title as a "city for peace".
Visiting journalists have hailed the preparations made by the Vietnamese Government, the smooth running of events and the warm welcome received by all concerned. With food put on at the International Media Centre and free trips around the city and northern region for foreign reporters, the country has taken full advantage of the immense potential offered by the talks. Not only will Hà Nội shine as a backdrop in the media milieu, but other areas of the country will receive significant attention and hopefully investment in due course.
The steep costs associated with planning such a high-profile summit and ensuring security throughout have been met, demonstrating Hà Nội’s abilities as a venue for the highest levels of political theatre.
Of course, the country’s successful hosting of APEC in 2017, the World Economic Forum on ASEAN 2018 and regular state-level visits by world leaders have laid the groundwork, but rarely has such intense focus been placed on the Vietnamese capital in recent years.
With a population of over 95 million and economic growth among the fastest in the world, Việt Nam has emerged as an important player in both regional and global politics. In rapidly overcoming years of poverty, the country now plays a central role in ASEAN, and often takes the lead at intergovernmental forums and events.
In just over four decades, Việt Nam has evolved to become a leader in Southeast Asia, as well as a consistent presence on the world stage. In less than a decade, Việt Nam saw an exponential increase in the number of countries with which it enjoyed diplomatic relations – from 23 in 1985 to 163 in 1995. The latter half of the 1990s also saw Việt Nam join ASEAN and APEC.
Agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVFTA) will allow Việt Nam to forge stronger partnerships internationally, promote its national image, bolster relationships and lay the foundations for further economic development.
Playing host to such a peace summit cements Việt Nam’s place as a trusted member of the international community, even if the nuclear-armed stalemate is not yet at an end.
Hà Nội was keen to offer itself as the venue for this year’s most important political event, a nod to the country’s own ability to overcome hardship and find peace as well as its potential to inspire peace in others.
Regardless of the long-term outcomes of the talks, the Hà Nội summit is testament to the nation’s direction, and the clear demonstration of political stability supports and encourages foreign investment and thus more economic growth.
The meeting also dispels some concerns over the United States’ position on the region, which has been uncertain since Trump took office. Clearly, the choice of Việt Nam suggests a commitment to the partnership between the two nations and the region as a whole.
Economically, Trump’s last visit saw the signing of US$12 billion in commercial deals, including in the natural gas, transport and aviation sectors. On the sidelines of this year’s summit, two Vietnamese airlines signed deals worth a combined $21 billion with American companies. More opportunities are sure to land soon, and foreign investors will have been watching closely before planning their next moves.
Việt Nam has made a point of engaging in high level talks, institutions and international trade agreements over the past three decades, strengthening its public diplomatic work and position in the geopolitics of Southeast Asia.
The Hà Nội summit will be added to this roster of diplomatic success, and be remembered as the culmination of a foreign policy strategy that has brought the country from adversity to the heights of the international stage.
As we look back on this week, leaders and residents alike should take pride in the accomplishments witnessed by the world. It’s no small feat to pull off something like the summit, and Việt Nam passed the test with aplomb. - VNS