Vietnam’s moped-choked capital Hanoi is well behind Singapore in the league of glitzy Southeast Asian cities, but that’s not stopping the country’s communist rulers from hoping that the United States-North Korea nuclear talks it is hosting this week will rival last year’s summit in the Lion City.

With less than 24 hours before the arrival of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump , top Vietnamese officials on Monday told reporters at a press briefing that preparations were “complete” for the two-day summit which begins Wednesday.

It is the biggest event the country is hosting since the 2017 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, during which Trump made his first visit to Vietnam as president.

For this week’s conclave, Vietnam has had to hastily grapple with tightening security across the country as well as set up technological infrastructure for the nearly 4,000 journalists who have descended on Hanoi over the past few days.

Washington is hoping for substantive progress during the talks, the second time the two leaders are meeting since June 12 last year in Singapore, when they signed a vague declaration on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

While Singapore had a relatively long lead time to organise the first summit, Le Hoai Trung, Vietnam’s vice foreign minister, said his officials had to work swiftly because the “more official information” of the meeting was only conveyed to Hanoi in “mid February” – leaving around 10 days to prepare for the arrival of the US and North Korean leaders.

Trump first confirmed the summit would be held in Vietnam during his State of the Union address on February 5.

Le said the Singaporeans were consulted on the exact “specification” of certain technical issues, such as the internet bandwidth provided in June’s summit venues.

Once a regional pariah because of its invasion and occupation of neighbouring Laos and Cambodia – after its war with the US – Vietnam is seeking to press home the narrative that it agreed to host the summit to show it now stands firmly behind international norms.

A successful summit “is an important priority for Vietnam’s foreign affairs in 2019”, Le said, adding that his government hoped to “demonstrate our foreign policy as a contributor to peace and our role as a responsible actor of the international community”.

When pressed on finer details of the summit – for which the itinerary and exact location have yet to be announced – Le said his ministry was adhering to requests by Washington and Pyongyang to not disclose the information yet.

He said both leaders would hold bilateral talks with Vietnam’s senior political leaders.

The foreign ministry announced soon after the press briefing that Trump – who arrives on Tuesday evening – would hold talks with Vietnam’s President Nguyen Phu Trong early on Wednesday.

Kim, travelling through China from Pyongyang by train, is expected to arrive in the Vietnamese border town of Dong Dang early tomorrow. From there he will make his way to Hanoi by road.

Dozens of police cars and motorcycles – some brand new, according to Le – practised motorcade formations on the streets of Hanoi on Monday morning.

As for the total cost of hosting the summit, Le said he did not have a figure yet.

Singapore spent over S$20 million (US$14.8 million) on last year’s summit, with a large chunk of the bill attributed to security costs. It deployed a total of 13,000 police officers and 2,500 first responders.

The city state also paid for the accommodation of Kim’s delegation.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last year pushed back against domestic criticism over the multimillion-dollar summit held at taxpayers’ expense, describing it as “our contribution to an international endeavour which is in our profound interest”.

By Bhavan Jaipragas - The South China Morning Post - February 26, 2019