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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Updated March 2, 1735 KST to include details regarding Kim Jong Un’s departure from Vietnam Saturday afternoon
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Vietnam’s President and Prime Minister on Friday as part of his official state visit to the country, holding top-level discussions over strengthening bilateral ties and boosting exchanges, DPRK state media reported Saturday.
During one of a series of meetings in the afternoon, Kim said the two parties and countries should “actively make regular cooperation and exchanges” in areas including the economy and national defense, according to a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) report.
Kim also thanked the Vietnamese leadership for hosting the second U.S.-DPRK summit in the days prior, the report said.
The North Korean leader and other government officials first arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday morning, having departed Pyongyang by train the previous Saturday evening.
Following his initial arrival, Kim’s first agenda in Vietnam was the much-anticipated second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, held Wednesday night and concluding earlier than expected the following afternoon.
Kim’s official state visit finally began Friday afternoon, when he traveled to the Presidential Palace for an official reception, complete with a military band playing the DPRK national anthem and the traditional red carpet and stage-top photo-op with the two leaders.
Photos of the reception and events throughout the day, including meeting the three top Vietnamese officials and attending a dinner banquet and arts performance, dominated North Korean ruling party-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun, covering the first five pages in the special eight-page edition Saturday.
Joined by other top officials, the two leaders first sat down for an expanded meeting over the “political and economic situations of their respective countries.”
The KCNA report quoted Kim Jong Un as saying the two parties and countries should “actively make regular cooperation and exchanges in the economy, science and technology, national defense, cultural areas such as sports and the arts, publishing, and all areas, developing at a new high level.”
Kim also said he would stand together with Vietnam and their shared socialist systems towards what he is quoted as calling his “wealthy people and strong, democratic, fair, and civilized national construction plan.”
The plan’s title was placed in quotes in the KCNA Korean-language article in a way typically reserved for official slogans and directives, suggesting it may be a new economic-related line to appear in propaganda in the future.
A report published by the Vietnamese government-run online outlet VGP News carried additional comments from Kim Jong Un hinting at the possibility the North may look to Vietnam as a model for economic development.
Kim reportedly “expressed his pleasure to visit Vietnam and witness the country’s achievements in socio-economic development and international integration gained over the past time,” the report said.
He also hopes “to step up experience sharing with the Southeast Asian country,” it added.
Though there have been no reports of any visit by Kim to economic sites in Vietnam since he arrived on Tuesday, other top officials who joined the North Korean leader for Friday’s meetings did tour economic sites over the previous days.
A delegation led by vice-chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee Ri Su Yong on Wednesday toured the brand new high-tech automobile manufacturing facilities of the VinFast brand.
They also toured other facilities under the Vingroup that day, including the VinEco high-tech agricultural production zone and the Vinpearl Hotel Zone.
Then on Thursday, as Kim and Trump held talks in Hanoi, Ri and his delegation toured a telecommunications company run by the Vietnamese military, a plastic bag factory, and the national Agriculture Science Institute, among other sites.
In the Friday talks, President Nguyen Phu Trong was also reported to have accepted an invitation from Kim to visit North Korea “at a convenient time,” according to VGP News.
The reported invitation was not mentioned in the KCNA article, however.
During the talks, Trong characterized Vietnam as “a reliable friend, trusted partner and responsible member of the international community,” and said the official visit was a “very important milestone” in Hanoi-Pyongyang relations.
Speaking at a banquet and arts performance later in the evening, President and Socialist Party chief Trong highlighted their strong bilateral ties, especially since a visit to the country by the North’s first leader Kim Il Sung in 1964, according to the KCNA report.
Trong said Kim’s visit “has greatly contributed to the benefits of the two countries’ peoples, towards world peace and stability, and cooperation and development.”
The VGP News report added that Trong “welcomed” progress made in the U.S.-DPRK relationship through the Hanoi summit, saying the talks “contribute to peace, stability, cooperation and development in the region.”
In addition to President Trong, Kim Jong Un also met on Friday with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.
More official exchanges are expected in the coming year as the two countries plan to hold celebrations over the 70th anniversary of establishing relations, according to the reports from both state media outlets.
Kim was joined for the summit by WPK Central Committee vice-chairmen Kim Yong Chol, Ri Su Yong, Kim Phyong Hae, and O Su Yong, as well as defense chief No Kwang Chol, foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, and his younger sister and Central Committee first vice department director Kim Yo Jong, according to KCNA.
With his summit with Vietnamese President Trong, Kim adds to his four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, one with the Cuban President and the Singaporean Prime Minister, and now two with U.S. President Donald Trump, making 12 such leader-level meetings in the past year.
Meanwhile in the second day of the summit on Saturday morning, Kim Jong Un was reported in Vietnamese media to have visited the Monument to Heroic Martyrs and President Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum to pay respects and lay a wreath.
He was reported just after 1000 local time to have departed Hanoi on his way to Dong Dang Station on the country’s border with China to board a train on his way back to Pyongyang.
The North Korean leader boarded his armored train at the border station and departed Vietnam just after 1230 local time Saturday.
Featured image: Rodong Sinmun