Hanoi, Vietnam – As Vietnam’s capital gears up to host the second US-North Korea summit, it’s not just the beefed-up security, sold-out hotels and fluttering flags across Hanoi that are marking the occasion.
Bars are also serving “Peace Negroniations”; stores are selling t-shirts bearing Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un’s faces; and even hairdressers are offering free cuts to those eager to replicate the hairstyles of the leaders of the United States and North Korea.
With preparations for the February 27-28 talks in full swing, the overall mood on the jam-packed streets of Hanoi appears to be a mix of awe and pride – even if, for some, the furore and attention surrounding the summit is an unwelcome distraction from everyday life.
“I deliver my products door-to-door in the city,” Vu Van Dong, a 28-year-old farmer, told Al Jazeera.
“Since the streets will be blocked off for the summit, it will have a negative impact on my business. But I still support hosting it as it will keep the world a safer place.”
This Vietnamese barber will give you a Kim or Trump haircut for free ahead of the Hanoi summit. pic.twitter.com/0BrsiVE5Gt
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 21, 2019
According to Phuong Hoa Nguyen, a deputy director at Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, the effects of playing hosts to not only Trump and Kim, but also to the media circus coming to town, would allow the country to showcase its “dynamic development with a model of successful socio-economic innovation, friendly people, rich cultural identity and heroic history”.
“This is a great opportunity to promote Vietnam as an attractive and safe destination for tourism and investment,” Nguyen told Al Jazeera.
“We aim to attract 18 million international tourists in 2019 with a modest budget of $2m for promotional activities.”
Nguyen acknowledged it was “difficult” to gauge how much Vietnam stood to benefit financially from the much-anticipated meeting, held eight months after the landmark summit between Trump and Kim in Singapore last year.
“Singapore invested about 20m Singaporean dollars ($14.8m) towards organising the first Trump-Kim summit and earned nearly 40 times that amount towards its economy,” Nguyen said.
But in addition to monetary benefits, the spotlight and excitement accompanying the high-profile talks was “invaluable” to Vietnam, Nguyen added.
|Preparations are in full swing on the streets of Hanoi for the summit [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]|
In preparation for the upcoming two-day talks, which will be held at a yet-to-be announced location, security at the airport has been raised to the highest level. Additional security officials have also been positioned in public and restricted areas across Hanoi.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc earlier this month chaired a meeting to review the arrangements of the summit, which he described as “an important international event of particular interest to the international community and opinion”.
The summit has also become a major topic of discussion among locals of various ages and interests, drawing a wide range of responses.
“I don’t care much about this event because Vietnam’s role is merely of lending the venue,” Tran Thanh Nga, 29, told Al Jazeera.
But Lieu, a 90-year-old Hanoi resident, is “excited and honoured” his city was chosen as the host.
“I’ve been staying updated on the summit every day through television,” said Lieu. “This event will also draw welcome attention to Vietnam and bring opportunities to boost the national economy.”
Since Vietnam began its economic liberalisation programme in the mid-1980s, its income per person has risen 10-fold to more than $2,300, according to the World Bank, which rates it as “one of the most dynamic emerging countries in East Asia region”.
The economy as a whole grew by 11 percent last year, its fastest expansion in more than a decade.
During a visit to Vietnam last year, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in remarks aimed at Kim, said: “Your country can replicate this path. It’s yours if you’ll seize the moment.”
Keen to show off Vietnam’s successful economic rise, Pompeo added: “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”
Huynh The Du, a lecturer in public policy at the School of Public Policy and Management, Fulbright University Vietnam, told Al Jazeera that hosting the summit would “create more trust for the international business and investment community”, as well as potentially boost its tourism industry.
“If Vietnam is able to cement its position to become a favoured venue or trusted partner for sides to meet and negotiate by enhancing its neutrality and friendliness, the benefits will last long,” Du said. “Otherwise, the effects may be extinguished shortly.”
In recent years, Vietnam has played hosts to major international events, including the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit and a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2018.
|Howard X, a Kim lookalike, and Russell White, a Trump impersonator, pose for a photo at Hanoi’s Metropole Hotel [Jorge Silva/Reuters]|
Back on the streets of Hanoi, locals and tourists alike have – almost – caught a glimpse of Trump and Kim already, as two impersonators cashing in on their resemblance to the two leaders began walking around the city just before the scheduled talks.
Howard X, an Australian, has been using his likeliness to North Korea’s leader, appearing in Singapore for last year’s summit and was also present at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Russell White, the Trump lookalike, posed for photos near the Metropole Hotel with Howard before being shoved away by security officials.
The pair was released by Vietnamese authorities on Saturday after being questioned by authorities.
Additional reporting by Hoai Thu Le