Ho Chi Minh
Vietnam, the host country for the upcoming second North Korea-US summit on Feb. 27–28, is a very special country to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Not only is Kim keenly interested in the Vietnamese models of reform and openness, but during the Vietnam War, North Korea formed a relationship with the country to equal its ties to China under Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung.
At the height of the Vietnam War between 1964 and 1969, North Korea provided military supplies and deployed its air force to North Vietnam, led at the time by Ho Chi Minh. China also provided weapons and engineers around the same time. With South Korea contributing its own forces to support South Vietnam as a US ally, the situation amounted to a “second war” pitting South Korea and the US against China and North Korea in Vietnam. The historical significance of the Vietnam War appears poised to enter the spotlight once again if the four parties end up holding discussions on a quadrilateral declaration ending the Korean War at the second North Korea-US summit.
North Korea refers to its troops who fought in the Vietnam War as “volunteers” – just as China described its People’s Army troops who fought in the Korean War. In 2002, the remains of North Korean volunteers who died in the Vietnam were returned to the North and laid to rest at the Korean People’s Army Heroic Martyrs’ Cemetery. Tombstones for them can still be found in Bac Giang Province near Hanoi.
The friendship between North Korea and Vietnam began when in Jan. 1950 when the two sides established diplomatic relations. Their close bonds as fellow socialist powers reached their zenith with Ho’s visit to North Korea in July 1957 and Kim’s reciprocal visit to Vietnam in Nov. 1958. Upon meeting Kim, Ho said, “I propose a competition with our North Korean brothers in the building of socialism. Competition means solidarity between the people of Vietnam and the people of North Korea.”
N. Korea-Vietnam relations not always smooth
chairman of the Workers’ Party of Vietnam
The relationship between North Korea and Vietnam went through its ups and downs. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in Dec. 1978, North Korea called back its ambassador, denouncing the “violation of international law and betrayal of socialism.” The two sides eventually re-established embassy relations in 1984, but fell out once again in 1992 when Vietnam formed diplomatic ties with South Korea. Another turning point came in 2007, when Nong Duc Manh became the first Vietnamese Communist Party general secretary since Ho to visit North Korea, where he met with then leader Kim Jong-il. Since then, Vietnam has consistently supported a dialogue-based solution to the North Korean nuclear issue, even as it has complied with international sanctions in the wake of the North’s nuclear tests and missile launches.
The two sides have become even closer since Kim Jong-un came to power, with some analysts speculating Kim has referred to Vietnam’s reform and openness approach as a model in his regime’s focus on building the economy.
“Chairman Kim is reportedly to have said he wanted to proceed under a ‘Vietnam model’ during [last year’s] Apr. 27 inter-Korean summit at Panmunjom,” noted Yang Moon-soo, professor at the University of North Korean Studies.
“Vietnam’s Communist Party-led model is the preferred one for Chairman Kim as someone attempting to achieve the twin aims of preserving the system and developing the economy,” Yang suggested.
An official visit to Vietnam by North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho last November for the 60th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s Vietnam visit drew attention along the same lines.
By Yoo Kang-moon, senior staff writer
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