By Agence France-Presse
But unlike Pyongyang, Hanoi now counts Washington among its closest allies, emerging from the ravages of war to become one of the fastest growing economies in Asia – and one of the most diplomatically savvy.
Here are a few reasons why it was chosen to host the second Trump-Kim summit:
Does it make logistical sense?
Vietnam ticks a lot of boxes. It is a short enough flight from Pyongyang for Kim, who otherwise travels by armoured train.
It is also home to both US and North Korean embassies to help with pre-summit arrangements.
Hanoi enjoys friendly ties with both countries and is considered “neutral” territory, unlike, say, the US state of Hawaii, which was also rumoured as an option.
Security in the communist country is tight even during normal times. Authorities will carefully control media access and crowds for an event where the choreography between the leaders will be closely watched across the world.
Why is Kim on board with Vietnam?
Vietnam is one of a handful of countries with which North Korea has good relations.
Diplomatic ties between Hanoi and Pyongyang date back to 1950, and North Korea sent air force personnel to the communist North during the Vietnam War.
The last top North Korean leader to visit Vietnam was Kim Jong-un’s grandfather Kim Il-sung in 1961, though several senior officials have visited since then.
While trade has dipped in the wake of UN sanctions against Pyongyang, it reached $7 million (Bt219 million) in 2017.
Kim’s trip to Vietnam – it will be his first – could also be a chance for him to learn from Vietnam’s post-war economic transformation.
“[Kim] would be interested in seeing the Vietnam story for himself, that can be a good source of inspiration and reflection for him to think about the way he should take North Korea forward,” says Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnam expert at Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.
What about Washington?
Vietnam might also be a strategically important location for the US, which is currently locked in a trade war with China – one of North Korea’s closest allies.
Trump could use Vietnam to “signal to Beijing that North Korea is not in your hands, we have a counterbalance to Chinese influence in this area”, said Cheon Seong Whun, a visiting research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
Washington is also keen to show off Vietnam’s economic success story, touted by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during a visit to the country last year.
“Your country can replicate this path. It’s yours if you’ll seize the moment,” Pompeo said in remarks aimed at Kim.
“It can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”
Why is Hanoi keen to host?
Vietnam is eager to showcase its diplomatic gravitas on a global stage, following on from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in 2017 and a regional World Economic Forum meeting last year.
The Trump-Kim meet could pay off in more ways than one.
Hosting the box-office summit could boost “Vietnam’s status in the international community, which helps the country attract tourism and foreign investment”, says Vu Minh Khuong, a policy analyst at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.