US lifts ban on arms sales to Vietnam
UNITED States President Barack Obama declared the decades-long embargo on arms sales to Vietnam lifted during his visit to Hanoi yesterday as a step forward in normalising relationships, with both sides avoiding explicit mention of China as a factor in the decision.
Speaking at a press conference held with his Vietnamese counterpart Tran Dai Quang, Mr Obama said "the decision to lift the ban was not based on China or any other considerations," Vietnam's VTC News channel reported.
"It was based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalisation with Vietnam," he added.
The sale of arms, however, would depend on Vietnam's human rights commitments which would be made on a case-by-case basis.
In response, Mr Quang, who described Mr Obama's visit as a "new chapter in relations", welcomed the removal.
Tran Cong Truc, the former head of Vietnam's Border Committee, told the BBC that the move "has great significance in the current complicated situation in the East Sea (South China Sea)", suggesting it might lead to military cooperation between the two countries against China's "expansionism" in the area.
The US stopped selling lethal arms to Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 and implemented the arms embargo in 1984, reported the VietTimes website.
Although the two countries normalised diplomatic relations in 1995 and signed a bilateral trade agreement in 2001, the US did not loosen the ban all this while.
But now, US policymakers reportedly believe exporting arms to Vietnam would reduce its dependence on Russia in addition to deterring China.
Washington is also seeking access to Vietnam's Cam Ranh Bay for its warships as well as joint drills with the Vietnamese navy.
China's Global Times newspaper said yesterday that the fact that Mr Obama visited Vietnam only at the end of his term showed the country "is not the most important on his agenda".
It also said Washington was using the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), which excludes China, to sneak changes into Vietnam but Hanoi is guarded towards its intention.
It added that Vietnam would never be allied to the US as a "second Philippines".
Security analysts expect Vietnam's initial military procurement from the US to cover the latest in surveillance radar, intelligence and communications technology, which would allow it better coverage of the South China Sea as well as integration of its growing forces, reported Reuters.
Hanoi is also expected to seek drones and possibly P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft from the US.
China is Vietnam's biggest trade partner and source of imports but trade with the US has swelled over the past two decades. Vietnam is now South-east Asia's biggest exporter to America.
Mr Obama, the third US president to visit Vietnam since 1995, will leave for Japan tomorrow.