By Courtney Grogan
As U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet in Vietnam this week, a South Korean archbishop sees the host country as a model for the development of economic and religious freedoms in the isolated country.
Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-jung of Gwangju expressed hope for the Feb. 27-28 meeting between Kim and Trump, which kicked off Wednesday night with a dinner in Hanoi and will continue Thursday to negotatiate the potential denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
“The Vietnam-style reform and open model of ‘doi moi’ in North Korea, which itself has declared economic development to be a top priority, is the optimal way to pursue economic growth,” Archbishop Kim has said.
“Doi moi” refers to Vietnam’s process of economic liberalization that began in 1986.
When Trump first greeted Kim Feb. 27, he said: “I think your country has tremendous economic potential.”
Vietnam and North Korea share a common history in that both fought bloody wars with the United States to defend their communist rule.
Vietnam, however, went on to normalize relations with United States in 1995 after suffering under economic sanctions and a U.S. trade embargo, and in turn experienced tremendous economic growth.
“Kim Jong-un will be able to refer to the Vietnamese model not only as a model of reform and opening up, but also in terms of diplomatic relations with the papacy,” Archbishop Kim said.
The Holy See appointed a diplomatic envoy to Vietnam in 2011 in the form of a “non-resident representative” after a series of bilateral talks during Benedict XVI’s papacy.
Archbishop Kim has been an advocate for increasing the Holy See’s diplomatic involvement in the Korean peninsula, remarking that he thinks a papal trip to Pyongyang would be a tremendous encouragement to North Korea’s persecuted Christians.
North Korea has consistently been ranked the worst country for persecution of Christians by Open Doors. Christians within the atheist state have faced arrest, re-education in labor camps, or, in some cases, execution for their faith.
“I do not know how many of them are, but there are a lot of believers in North Korea,” Archbishop Kim said.
“I think the pope could go to North Korea in order to encourage even a few believers and save the fires of faith, just as Jesus has left 99 lambs to find a lost sheep,” he added.
Pope Francis has said that he will travel to Japan in November.
“This year is likely to be an important year in Catholicism in East Asia,” Archbishop Kim said.
Archbishop Kim, president of the Korean bishops’ conference, traveled to North Korea earlier this month. The delegation visited Mount Kumgang to discuss increasing inter-Korean cultural exchanges within the tourism, education, sports, art, and media sectors.
“The reconciliation and peace of the Korean peninsula are the irreversible flow of history,” Archbishop Kim said in a Korean interview with Yonhap News Agency in Rome during the Vatican’s sex abuse summit.
“It is important to build mutual trusting relationships to prepare for peace through exchanges and cooperation,” he added.