By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un steps off the train at Dong Dang Railway Station, as he starts his visits to Vietnam for a two-day summit with the US President Donald Trump in Hanoi. Photo/EPA
Kim’s motorcade arrived in Hanoi slightly before noon yesterday. His train from Pyongyang, which left the North Korean capital on Saturday, stopped at the border town of Dong Dang, 170 kilometres north of the Vietnamese capital.
Amid the cold rain, people crowded the streets of Hanoi. Local residents and foreigners expressed their excitement to see the leader of the secretive North Korean regime, although Ly Thoung Kiet Street in front of Melia Hotel where Kim stayed was out of bounds to the public.
Besides the summit, Kim, who is chairman of the ruling Worker’s Party of Korea, is also paying an official visit to Vietnam at the invitation of his Vietnamese counterpart, Nguyen Phu Trong. The visit has been interpreted by observers as a study tour for Kim on adopting a successful economic model with socialist characteristics.
Kim is accompanied by senior officials, including his younger sister Kim Yo-jong, alternate member of the Political Bureau and Deputy Director of the ruling party’s Central Committee’s Propaganda and Agitation Department, and Vice Chairman of the party’s Central Committee Kim Yong-chol, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Meanwhile, Trump landed in Hanoi several hours later aboard Air Force One.
While Kim has made no public remarks before the meeting, Trump tweeted that he was looking forward to a “very productive” second summit.
Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore last June with a joint statement issued after the summit containing a commitment to denuclearise the Korean peninsula; open a new chapter in US-North Korea ties; establish lasting peace; and recover prisoners of war and persons missing in action.
In Singapore, Trump talked about putting pressure on Kim with the threat of sanctions to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions. This time, it is believed that the US will offer economic incentives after Trump tweeted: “With complete denuclearisation, North Korea will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse. Without it, just more of the same,” he said. “Chairman Kim will make a wise decision!”
Washington wants the second summit to be more productive than the first one. The US special representative to North Korea, Steve Biegun, held discussions in Pyongyang last month and again in Hanoi last week to push his efforts for a concrete outcome from the summit.
The success of the meeting may well depend not only on what President Trump does but also on the outcome of these preparations, said Brussels-based analyst International Crisis Group’s senior adviser Christopher Green.
“Importantly, Washington has incrementally relaxed its demand for unilateral North Korean denuclearisation prior to US concessions, tentatively embracing a more realistic plan based on reciprocal steps and heightening the potential for a constructive summit,” he said in a statement released on Monday.
Pyongyang might agree to credible steps toward denuclearisation in exchange for modest sanctions relief from Washington, Green said.
Kim told South Korean President Moon Jae-in when the latter visited Pyongyang in September that the closure of the nuclear research facility at Yongbyong would be possible if the US took measures in accordance with the Singapore summit. Host Vietnam is not involved directly with the Trump-Kim meeting, but sees the hosting of the widely awaited high-profile event as an opportunity to boost its international role.
Nearly 3,000 journalists representing more than 200 media outlets from 40 countries around the world have registered for the second summit in Hanoi, according to Vietnam News Agency. The Vietnamese authorities only had some 20 days to prepare for the event after Trump’s sudden announcement of Hanoi serving as the neutral summit venue, it said.
Vietnam’s Deputy Foreign Minister Le Hoai Trung said last week that hosting the summit is a tremendous boost for Vietnam in many ways. It is an occasion to demonstrate the country’s proactive responsibility in the international community as well as its wish to make contributions to regional and global peace, he said.