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Reform Suggestions Seen Falling on Deaf Ears in N. Korea

FILE - South Korean President Park Geun-hye, shown speaking at a news conference in January, has said North Korea could benefit from the Vietnam and Myanmar models of economic reform.

Observers say a recent call for North Korea to follow the reform model of Vietnam and Myanmar seems unlikely to be taken seriously by Pyongyang.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye said this month that North Korea should embrace reforms such as the ones undertaken by Vietnam, which has seen positive growth in recent years. She also mentioned Myanmar, also known as Burma, as another country that has benefited from reforms.

Observers such as Peter Beck, Senior Advisor at the New Paradigm Institute in Seoul, said the Vietnam model could make sense for Pyongyang.

“Vietnam shows that you can make changes to the economy, reform and open up without destabilizing the regime, so I think the Vietnamese model is appealing to the North Korean government,” he said.

But Beck said he didn't expect any breakthrough in North Korea, where the reform process has been “very slow” over the last two decades.

Pham Tat Dong, chairman of the Vietnamese-North Korean Friendship Association, told VOA that North Korean diplomats in Hanoi had made it clear that Pyongyang was focused on self-reliance, not reform.

“North Koreans say they are among socialist countries. But Vietnam’s socialism is much different," he said. "Vietnam has transformed its economy into a vibrant, market-orientated one, while the North Korean economy, as I witnessed, is still very much a subsidy-based one."

He added that he wanted to establish a presence for Vietnamese businesses in North Korea but had made little progress so far.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.