On summit sidelines, North Koreans study Vietnam's economy


HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Senior members of North Korea’s delegation to Hanoi for Kim Jong Un’s summit with President Donald Trump took a side trip Wednesday to visit one of Vietnam’s most successful conglomerates.

Kim has several senior foreign and economic advisers with him in Hanoi and gleaning insights into ways to improve the North’s economy appears to be high on their list of priorities.

As Kim stayed behind to prepare for the summit, a motorcade with former Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong, who is now the ruling party’s top foreign policy adviser, and O Su Yong, a ruling party vice chairman and director of its Economic Affairs Department, traveled by car to the port city of Hai Phong, about 105 kilometers (60 miles) east of Hanoi, for a tour of Vinfast, which is part of the Vingroup, Vietnam’s largest conglomerate.

Kim’s visit for the two-day summit with Trump is seen as a good chance for Vietnam to show him that a war-ravaged Communist country can produce billionaires by launching reforms to attract foreign trade and investment.

While Kim wasn’t in the motorcade, much of the route was lined with Vietnamese and North Korean flags. Hundreds of engineering students waved as the limousines entered the factory complex.

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Trump has also made a point of how he hopes Kim will follow Vietnam’s example.

“Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth. North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize,” he tweeted on Wednesday before his first meeting with Kim. “The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un.”

Vietnam is one of fastest growing economies in Asia and the Vingroup is one of its flagship successes.

Vinfast’s businesses range from real estate development, hospitals and education to car manufacturing, agriculture, retails and resorts. Its operation in the Dinh Vu industrial park in Hai Phong uses technology from BMW and Bosch, among others, and is expected to start rolling out cars later this year.

Pham Nhat Vuong, chairman of Vingroup, ranked 499th in Forbes’ world’s richest people’s list, worth $7.8 billion as of Feb. 24, 2019 and is Vietnam’s richest man. The Forbes list includes three other Vietnamese.

Earlier in the day, the North Korean officials visited Quang Ninh province, location of the UNESCO world heritage site Ha Long Bay and about a half-hour’s drive from Hai Phong.

Like Vietnam, North Korea is trying to tap tourism as a potential major income source.

A big drawback for the North is its restrictive regulations on what tourists can do and where they can go. Since Trump took office there has been a travel ban on all non-essential trips by U.S. citizens.

The North may be hoping to see that ban lifted if the summit talks go smoothly.

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AP reporter Minh Tran contributed to this report. Talmadge is the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @EricTalmadge


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