More importantly, Dung is a long-time admirer of Korea’s chaebol system of conglomerates and has hoped to model Vietnam’s state-owned enterprises along the same lines. (This effort, though, has met with varying degrees of success, with many companies including the doomed Vinashin becoming involved in businesses hugely unsuited to them, such as hotels).
Vietnam has also become an important country in Korea’s bride trade—both legal and illegal. These days, many children are growing up bi-lingual in what was once a near-totally homogenous country, with remittances from these families overseas often being sent back to their poorer relatives in Vietnam.
And, as in the rest of South-east Asia, Hallyu is popular in Vietnam. Korean Pop star Rain’s concert four years ago, for example, drew unprecedented crowds, while Korean romantic comedies attract far larger audiences than the Vietnamese films on offer.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
‘Since 1992, Vietnam has welcomed and encouraged South Korean investment,’ Thayer says. ‘South Korea has been designated a strategic partner alongside Japan—Hyundai is the core of Vietnam’s shipbuilding industry at Van Phong Bay and can be expected to play a greater role in Vietnam in future.’
He adds: ‘South Korea is seen by Vietnam as another ally in balancing Vietnam’s relations with all-powerful China.’
And what about Seoul’s reclusive neighbour, North Korea? Well, there’s also some mutual interest between Pyongyang and Hanoi, analysts say.
For a start, fellow communist country Vietnam’s booming economy hasn’t gone unnoticed in Pyongyang, which is interested in Vietnam’s economic reform model. In addition, North Korea sends students to Vietnamese universities, and there’s also an outlet of the ‘Pyongyang’ chain of restaurants in Hanoi (staffed typically by unusually tall, pale women who double as waitress and entertainment, singing happy songs about their nation, and food).
So what’s behind all this diplomatic activity? With its powerful and increasingly assertive neighbour to the north, Vietnam’s moves are perhaps inevitably seen by many as aimed solely at containing China and securing support over territorial disputes. But despite recent concerns about government management of the economy, foreign investment in Vietnam has been rising as some nations look to it as an alternative manufacturing hub to China, with its lower costs and wages.
Even with a careful eye on China, it seems, Vietnam may well be able to afford to have the other one on the bigger international role that many see it as also craving.