In North Korea, Vietnam, China and Cuba, we’re witnessing tests this week of what it means to survive and prosper as a communist state in 2019.

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Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
  • The big picture: In the three decades since the fall of the Berlin Wall, communism has faded in much of the world and, where it remains, been pushed “discreetly aside in the pursuit of business,” as Will Englund put it in the Washington Post.
  • “Today it lives on in only the most attenuated forms. North Korea is the one ferocious holdout among the remaining Communist nations, but even there markets have been changing the nature of the economy,” Englund writes.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in the midst of a multi-day train journey to Vietnam, where he will hold his second summit with President Trump. Since taking power in 2011, Kim’s top priorities (other than consolidating power) have been to bolster North Korea’s nuclear program and its beleaguered economy.

  • The U.S. intelligence community believes Kim views nuclear weapons as so critical to the survival of his regime that he is unlikely to ever give them up.
  • Having made substantial progress on the nuclear front, though, Kim used his New Year’s address to lay out a “new strategic line focusing exclusively on the economy,” says Suzanne DiMaggio, a Carnegie fellow who has facilitated dialogue with the North Koreans on behalf of both the Obama and Trump administrations.
  • “In some ways, he has to deliver on it,” DiMaggio adds, and he won’t be able to without relief from sanctions. Trump hasattempted to sell Kim on the idea his country “will rapidly become an Economic Powerhouse” if he only gives up his nukes.

Vietnam, which liberalized its economy beginning in the 1980s, in many ways represents the future the Trump administration is encouraging Kim to pursue.

  • “Prosperity and security abound. When the leaders in Hanoi go to bed at night, the notion of conflict with America is the last thing on their minds,” Secretary of State Pompeo said on a visit to Vietnam last year before addressing Kim: “It can be your miracle in North Korea as well.”

China's economic might is viewed in Washington less as a miracle than as a threat. But Trump today gave the clearest indication yet that he plans to wind down a trade war that has posed pointed questions to Beijing.

  • He has been demanding fundamental changes to China’s economic model on issues like intellectual property, forced technology transfers and support to state-owned enterprises.
  • Trump said today that after “substantial progress” on those fronts, he expects to sign a deal with President Xi Jinping, perhaps next month at Mar-a-Lago.
  • However, Axios contributor Bill Bishop writes in his Sinocism newsletter: “Everything I am hearing supports that idea that Chinese have offered little in the way of the core structural concessions the U.S. wants, but Trump is eager for a deal regardless of what some of his advisors are telling him.”

Finally in Cuba, voters have ratified a new constitution for the first time since 1976.

  • "The rewrite is supposed to bring the constitution up to date in a world where the Soviet Union no longer exists and Cuba has taken steps to modernize its own economy, including allowing limited private enterprise and trying to attract foreign investment," per the Miami Herald.
  • One thing that won't change: The one-party, socialist system is declared "irrevocable."

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