In a follow-up to their meeting in Singapore last year, US president Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leader Kim Jong Un, are meeting in Hanoi on February 27 and 28. While it is unclear what the DPRK-US Summit will mean for diplomatic relations in the Asia-Pacific, one of the clear winners of the highly-anticipated diplomatic talks are local businesses and souvenir shops in Hanoi that have capitalised on the tourism and global interest that the Summit has brought to Vietnam’s capital city.
In the congested streets of Hanoi, local souvenir shops have been selling Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un memorabilia like T-shirts and commemorative stickers as well as flags of the two countries over the past few weeks. Sales have now started to peak with the Summit just hours away.
In the Old Quarter, the historic civic center of Hanoi where the summit talks will be held, a local shop has been selling customised banners and flags in the neighbourhood of Hoàn Kiếm. “The demand for the flags has doubled and people are very excited about the summit,” said Tat Trần, 25, a part-time worker at the store. Local companies, government agencies and residents across Hanoi have been calling over the past week to place large orders for flags that are then displayed on storefronts and are mounted on lamp posts, said Trần.
The flags cost 4000 Vietnamese Dong or approximately Rs 12 while larger sized flags are being sold for 15000 Vietnamese Dong, approximately Rs 45. The memorabilia also include face stickers, which according to Trần, are favoured by children and tourists. “We are so busy that the phones don’t stop ringing with requests for orders. We open at 9 am and close at night, whenever people stop coming. We don’t have a fixed closing time this week,” she said.
Hanoi resident Dat Van Nguyen, 26, purchased a summit commemorative T-shirt at the store where Trần works. “We are willing to support the summit for peace and maybe give some advice to North Korea to open their markets and counsel them on denuclearisation and encourage them to open up to trade around the world,” said Nguyen, who works as an accountant. “The president of Vietnam went around the city to check every area (for security) and I think we are really well prepared to host the summit,” he said.
A few streets away, Kim Chi Nguyen, 35, noticed the demand for commemorative memorabilia last week and quickly stocked her shop with similar T-shirts, flags, posters and postcards two days before the summit. “I hope that Kim and Trump achieve peace for both countries and the world,” she said.
Not every shop-owner selling commemorative memorabilia in Hanoi is however aware of the diplomatic ramifications of the DPRK-US summit. The small souvenir store next door to Kim Chi Nguyen’s is run by two elderly women who aren’t familiar with Donald Trump or Kim Jong Un but had been observing steadily rising sales of T-shirts depicting visages of the two leaders and decided to sell them at their shop as well.
Although the shops selling summit souvenirs are spaced only a few feet apart, the competition doesn’t seem to be of concern to local business owners and even bigger establishments in Hanoi are cashing in. M2, a Vietnamese clothing company has joined the commemoration spree and introduced a line of T-shirts for men and women featuring
cameos of Kim & Trump in the colours of the national flags of the respective countries for 135,000 Vietnamese dong, approximately 400 Indian Rupees.
Hải Vân Printing and Embroidery Shop in the Old Quarter is popular with tourists for selling souvenir T-shirts of Vietnam and popular graphics, but this past week has added summit T-shirts to its collection. “I got these T-shirts because many tourists and Vietnamese citizens are buying them to support the summit. I have sold almost 100 T-shirts over the past two days,” said Nguyen Thanh Thuy, the 65-year-old owner of the store. But it isn’t only the high sales in her shop that Nguyen is excited about this week. “This meeting is aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons and giving peace to the world. I hope the meeting achieves good results,” she said.
Eight months after a historic meeting in Singapore that only resulted in a vaguely worded statement on working towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula, Donald Trump tweeted, “Looking forward to a very productive Summit!” just before departing for Vietnam.
What the two unpredictable world leaders can agree upon this week remains to be seen, but for now, Hanoi’s shopkeepers and business establishments are pleased that Trump and Kim have brought the negotiating table to their backyard in the city’s historic Old Quarter.
Neha Banka is a freelance journalist based in Kolkata, India reporting on Asia with a focus on the Korean peninsula.