At Trump-Kim Summit, Host Vietnam Blazes Trail for North Korea

When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets President Trump in Hanoi next week, the venue itself will carry a message for the dictator: If you cooperate with the U.S., you could command an economic transformation like Vietnam’s.

A once-poor nation constrained for years by hostile post-war relations with the U.S., Vietnam forged a detente and a fast-growing economy while its Communist Party kept a tight grip on power. The country’s per capita gross domestic product today is 10 times what it was before reforms began in 1986, the benefit in part of investment from U.S. allies Japan and South Korea. It counts the U.S. among its biggest export markets.

In some ways, Vietnam’s circumstances in the mid-’80s parallel Pyongyang’s today. Mr. Kim wants to develop his sanctions-hobbled country, where appetite for economic reform is growing. But an opening carries risks for his dynastic regime, which wields near-absolute control and prohibits dissent.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has extolled Vietnam’s approach and presented it as a model.

“In light of the once-unimaginable prosperity and partnership we have with Vietnam today, I have a message for Chairman Kim Jong Un: President Trump believes your country can replicate this path. It’s yours if you’ll seize the moment,” Mr. Pompeo said in Hanoi last year.

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