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Is North Korea the next Vietnam? Don’t count on it

AS AMERICA presses North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, it has pointed to Vietnam as an example of the prosperity that awaits the isolated state. “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well,” Mike Pompeo (pictured), the secretary of state, said on July 8th, on a visit to Hanoi. It is not the first time Vietnam has been held up as a model for North Korea. Over the years, officials from the two countries have discussed lessons from Vietnam’s reforms. North Korea sees Vietnam as less threatening than China and more of a peer, making it a more welcome mentor. But North Korea’s economic path is likely to be more fraught.Yes, there are similarities. Like North Korea’s economy today, Vietnam’s used to be largely collectivised. The Vietnamese Communist party’s ability to retain power at the same time as freeing markets must appeal to Kim Jong Un, North Korea’s dictator, who has vowed to improve his country’s economy. In 1985, on the eve of Vietnam’s doi moi liberalising reforms, its GDP per person was a mere 1% of America’s. In 2015 North Korea was in an identical position relative to America, according to UN figures (rough estimates, since North Korea publishes few statistics).
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