Wall Street Journal‎ 24 May 2016

posted Jun 1, 2016, 5:14 PM by Vnspirit.com Lovely Vietnam   [ updated Jun 1, 2016, 5:16 PM ]
U.S. Lifts Arms Embargo on Vietnam

President Obama says shift removes vestige of Cold War; move comes as region frets over Chinese assertiveness
On the first day of his visit to Vietnam, President Barack Obama said the U.S. is fully lifting a decadeslong embargo on arms sales to Vietnam, in a bid to normalize relations with the country's one-time adversary. Photo: Reuters
JAMES HOOKWAYUpdated May 23, 2016 5:15 p.m. ET

HANOI—The U.S. will lift a decades-old ban on sales of lethal arms to Vietnam, a major policy shift that President Barack Obama said would end a “lingering vestige of the Cold War” and pave the way for more-normal ties between the two nations.

The move comes amid heightened concern about China, as well as criticism that the Obama administration had given up one of the levers the U.S. still had to press Vietnam into allowing greater freedom of expression and political dissent in the closely controlled communist state.

Mr. Obama, at a joint news conference Monday with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, said arms sales will have to meet certain requirements, including conditions related to human rights. He said the U.S. is “fully lifting the ban on the sale of military equipment,” with the aim of ensuring Vietnam has the ability to protect itself.

Mr. Quang welcomed the move, which his government has pushed for. He said Vietnam respects human rights and that Hanoi and Washington will work together to minimize differences on the issue. The U.S. and Vietnam increasingly share common interests, he said, and Mr. Obama’s visit “actively contributes to regional and global peace and stability.”

As Beijing asserts its territorial claims in the South China Sea, the policy shift suggests Washington sees improved security ties with Vietnam as more pressing than extracting further political reforms from Hanoi.

The decision, though, had its detractors. “In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam—and has basically gotten nothing for it,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Implicit in the president’s remarks were worries the two countries share about China. The U.S. has backed smaller countries against Beijing in calling for regional disputes over resources and territoryto be settled by multilateral talks, though it has taken no position onthe disputes themselves.

Photos: President Obama in Vietnam

Weeklong trip to Asia begins with visit to Vietnam meant to strengthen economic and security ties

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Mr. Obama with the chairwoman of the National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, strolling the Presidential Palace compound. CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with residents after leaving a restaurant in Hanoi. EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
A woman greets Mr. Obama in Hanoi. CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
Mr. Obama and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan feed fish in the gardens of the presidential palace in Hanoi. CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
Children play at the Vietnam People’s Air Force Museum in Hanoi. LINH PHAM/GETTY IMAGES
Mr. Obama and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in front of a bust of Ho Chi Minh. JIM WATSON/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGE
Mr. Obama landed in Hanoi on Sunday, on a visit aimed at strengthening ties through new economic and security initiatives. NA SON NGUYEN/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Once at the foot of the stairs, Mr. Obama got flowers from Linh Tran, the ceremonial flower presenter. CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The presidential motorcade traveling to a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on Monday. KHAM/REUTERS
The spectacle drew a variety of responses from the flag-waving children along the route. CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS
Mr. Quang and Mr. Obama reviewing an honor guard at the Presidential Palace; Mr. Obama is the third U.S. president to visit the country since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. LUONG THAI LINH/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
Mr. Obama, flanked by Secretary of State John Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, during a meeting with Mr. Quang at the Presidential Palace. The two governments announced agreements that included a lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam, meant to advance relations in response to common concerns over China. CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The other side of the meeting. CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Mr. Obama with the chairwoman of the National Assembly, Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan, strolling the Presidential Palace compound. CAROLYN KASTER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
U.S. President Barack Obama shakes hands with residents after leaving a restaurant in Hanoi. EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

“There is, I think, a genuine mutual concern with respect to maritime issues with respect to the United States and Vietnam,” Mr. Obama said, stressing the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Security experts said the U.S. decision represents a concerted effort to embrace Vietnam as an important trade and security partner. It builds on the normalization of diplomatic relations between the former Vietnam War adversaries in 1995, some two decades after U.S. troops departed and North Vietnam’s communist fighters secured a victory over the south. The two countries went on to sign a bilateral trade agreement in 2001.

Lifting the embargo also removes a key argument from conservative members of Vietnam’s Communist Party against closer ties with America. “For years they have used this issue to slow down the relationship with America, but now they can’t,” said Carlyle Thayer, emeritus professor and a Vietnam specialist at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

Mr. Thayer said that while in many respects the lifting of the embargo is symbolic, it potentially opens the door for Vietnam to acquire sophisticated coastal radar and other intelligence and surveillance equipment to counter Beijing’s growing sway in the South China Sea.

Ben Moores, a defense analyst at consultancy IHS Jane’s, said Vietnam has a roughly $13 billion shopping list of military equipment, including patrol aircraft, tanks, combat jets and attack helicopters.

So far, much of Vietnam’s arms budget has been spent on buying weapons and equipment from Russia. But because of China’s familiarity with Russian weapons systems—China is also a significant buyer of Russian hardware—Vietnam is aiming to develop new suppliers.

“About 82% of Vietnam’s spend went to Russia in 2015,” Mr. Moores said. “By 2021 we are forecasting that at least half of that market share will have been eroded.”

In recent years, China has built extensive facilities on some of the atolls and reefs it controls in the region’s disputed waters, raising concerns in Vietnam, the Philippines and elsewhere about Beijing’s ability to extend its military power through the South China Sea, which carries trade traffic amounting to over $5 trillion a year.

China’s reaction to the end of the arms embargo was muted. Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said that as a close neighbor, China welcomed Vietnam’s developing a normal and friendly relationship with any country, including the U.S. Like Mr. Obama, she described the embargo as an unnecessary remnant of the Cold War.

Some Vietnamese dissidents welcomed Mr. Obama’s move. Nguyen Quang A, who has often been detained by police for participating in political protests, said there was no reason to link the embargo to the question of human rights. “They are separate issues. The embargo helps to close the gap between the past and the present and marks the end of an era,” Mr. Quang A said. “That’s a good thing for everyone.”

In a nod to continued U.S. concerns about human rights in Vietnam, Mr. Obama on Tuesday is scheduled to meet with civil-society leaders. The country arrested several bloggers and activists and sentenced them to lengthy prison terms earlier this year, in the latest of many crackdowns.

Monday’s announcements came on the first day of a three-day visit by the U.S. president to Vietnam. Mr. Obama, who is the third American president to visit the country, began a series of meetings with Vietnamese officials by congratulating Mr. Quang and Vietnam for making “extraordinary progress.”


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Mr. Obama also expressed confidence that Congress will pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership this year,despite election-year political hurdles faced by the 12-nation trade agreement, which both the U.S. and Vietnam have signed.

Crowds of people, including children, lined the route of Mr. Obama’s motorcade to the Presidential Palace on Monday, some waving American flags.

Mr. Obama departs Vietnam on Wednesday for Japan, where he will attend the Group of Seven summit with other world leaders and become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima, site of the first U.S. atomic attack.

In his first comments about whether he will apologize for the Hiroshima bombing, Mr. Obama said he wouldn’t “because I think that it is important to recognize that in the midst of war, leaders make all kinds of decisions.”

“It’s a job of historians to ask questions and examine them, but I know as somebody who has now sat in this position for the last 7½ years, that every leader makes very difficult decisions, particularly during wartime,” he said in an interview with Japanese broadcaster NHK.

—Vu Trong Khanh and Robert Wall contributed to this article.

Write to Carol E. Lee at carol.lee@wsj.com and James Hookway atjames.hookway@wsj.com