Paddies to peace: Vietnam farmer hopes Kim learns from example

Paddies to peace: Vietnam farmer hopes Kim learns from example

Hanoi rice paddy
This picture taken on April 7, 2018, shows a farmer working in a paddy field in the outskirt of Hanoi.  (Photo: AFP/Nhac NGUYEN)

HANOI: At the start of the Vietnam War, North Korean leader Kim Il Sung offered to help Nguyen Van Ngu's village. Now the farmer hopes to show his grandson how far his country has come since conflict tore it apart.

Hanoi was once ravaged by war with the US, but has since transformed its relationship with Washington and is now billing itself as the "City of Peace" as it hosts the second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

Ngu ran from his rice paddy where he was working to greet North Vietnamese president Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung when they suddenly visited his village in 1964.

Kim offered the villagers North Korean-made farming equipment to help with the war effort.

"Our Vietnam was not capable of producing such machinery," said the grey-haired Ngu, 76. "We were so happy, we thought we met angels from heaven bringing happiness to the people."

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North Korea was one of Hanoi's wartime allies, sending about 200 military personnel - most of them fighter pilots and psychological warfare specialists - to help its fellow Communist bloc member in its fight against the US-backed regime in the south.

There are some parallels with the 1950-53 Korean War, when US-led UN forces and North Koreans backed by China and the Soviet Union fought each other to a standstill along what is now the Demilitarised Zone.

But that conflict technically continues to this day after hostilities ended in a ceasefire rather than a peace treaty and the Korean peninsula remains divided, unlike Vietnam, where the South fell to the North in 1975.

Now Ngu's rice field is covered with two- and three-storey houses and he hopes Kim Jong Un will visit and learn from Vietnam's post-1990s transformation.

"We wish the Koreas would reconcile and North Korea could have good economic development like Vietnam," he said.

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Today Vietnam is being touted as an economic model for Pyongyang.

Trump has repeatedly dangled the prospect of the North having a bright future if it gives up its nuclear arsenal, on Wednesday drawing a direct parallel with Vietnam.

The southeast Asian nation has pulled itself from post-war poverty to become one of the region's fastest-growing economies while still maintaining a watertight grip on power - principles that could appeal to Kim.

On Wednesday, he sent members of his delegation to Halong Bay and to a Vietnamese car plant, crown jewels of Vietnam's tourism and manufacturing sectors.

But the North's sanctions-hit economy has a mountain to climb after decades of mismanagement and multiple foreign investments into it failed - analysts Verisk Maplecroft rank it as the least investable country in the world.

"Pyongyang can learn from Hanoi, from the experiences of Hanoi, from Vietnam's status which was isolated 40 years ago to become a peaceful country today," said economist Pham Chi Lan, the former vice president of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce.

Hanoians are embracing their role as "peaceful" hosts for the talks, while affirming Vietnam's entrepreneurial spirit, with several businesses cashing in on the event - shopkeepers offer summit-related kitsch from T-shirts to flags, while others serve up Trump- and Kim-themed cocktails and burgers.

"Hanoians and Vietnamese people, as well as other peace lovers in the world, want this summit to have best result," Nguyen Duc Chung, chairman of Hanoi's People's committee said.

Source: AFP/na