The U.S. will fully lift its embargo on weapons sales to Vietnam. President Barack Obama announced the move as a key step towards drawing down a "lingering vestige of the Cold War" (video below).
On May 23, President Obama arrived in Vietnam for a scheduled three-day diplomatic visit. Once engaged in a decade-long war with the U.S., Vietnam has become a key economic ally among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), according to Voice of America.
Vietnam has become the leading ASEAN exporter of goods to the U.S. The communist nation is also among the 12 countries to have signed onto the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), hoping to expand trade with the U.S. and ease its economic dependence to China.
President Obama arrived in the country’s capital of Hanoi, where he met with President Tran Dai Quang. During a subsequent press conference, President Obama announced the end of the U.S. weapon sales embargo to the communist nation, BBC News reports.
“It’s based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam,” President Obama said.
The U.S. has imposed an arms ban on Vietnam since 1984, partially lifting restrictions in 2014. The communist country has doubled its number of arms imports over the last decade, coming in as the eighth biggest weapons importer in the last five years. The majority of its arms have been supplied by Russia.
President Obama signaled that lifting the weapons embargo still comes with restrictions. U.S. Arms sales to the communist nation will still have to observe international law of exporting weapons to countries that violate human rights. Vietnam has a poor record on that count, although the incentive to strengthen its military capabilities could provide incentives for reform.
“Sales with need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights, but this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself,” President Obama said.
The communist nation is expected to resist purchasing expensive U.S. weapons technology and instead import surveillance systems and technology to bolster its coastal defenses. The ASEAN nation has had tensions with China, which has aggressively expanded its reach in the trade-heavy South China Sea.
The thawing of U.S.-Vietnam relations and ending the weapons embargo signals that China will be facing heavier resistance in the crucial trade zone from now on. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying issued a diplomatic statement following President Obama’s announcement.
“We certainly hope that the development of this friendly relationship can be conducive to this region’s stability and development,” Chunying said, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Executive director Zhu Feng of the Nanjing University China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea weighed in on the foreign ministry’s response, stating that China will have to handle the strengthening U.S.-Vietnam relationship in stride.
“We don’t want to look overly sensitive or irritated, because U.S.-China relations are very complicated and very important… It doesn’t serve China’s interests at all to rival the U.S. in the Asia Pacific,” Zhu said.