In what is seen as one of the last major hurdles to overcome and strengthen ties with the region and aid a former foe, President Obama has lifted the arms embargo on Vietnam.
“Vietnam very much appreciates the US decision to completely lift the ban on lethal weapon sales to Vietnam, which is the clear proof that both countries have completely normalized relations,” Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang said at a joint press conference with Obama.
Mr. Obama described the removal of the arms embargo as an act to enhance the relationship between Washington and Ha-noi and to do away with a “lingering vestige of the Cold War.”
The announcement on Monday while Mr. Obama visited Ha-noi is largely viewed as a response to the Chinese military buildup in the region, specifically the construction of military installations on the disputed Spratly Islands.
In 2014, China constructed an oil rig near the Paracel Islands, an archipelago Vietnam considers inside its economic domain. Vietnam claims Chinese naval vessels rammed Vietnamese coastal-patrol ships.
The United States has voiced concern over what Washington considers Beijing’s aggressive activity and conservatives in Congress praised the move.
“Congress will work with the administration to ensure today’s more expansive shift in policy aligns with U.S. interests, including the desire for progress on human rights,” said chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker (R-TN).
Liberals and human rights advocates, however, were disappointed the policy change wasn’t accompanied with concessions by Vietnam to enact civil rights reforms.
“In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam — and basically gotten nothing for it,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia director, Phil Robertson.
[RT News] [Voice of America] [Reuters]