U.S. President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would fully lift a ban on the sale of lethal arms and military equipment to Vietnam. President Obama announced this change in U.S. policy, which has been in place for about fifty years, during his visit to Vietnam on Monday, May 23, 2016. At a joint news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, President Obama said this move would remove a lingering “vestige of the Cold War” and complete what has been a lengthy process towards normalization with Vietnam, which began in 1995.
Despite the complete embargo lift, sales with Vietnam will still need to meet strict trade requirements. The sale of arms will still depend on Vietnam’s human rights commitments and will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Reporters suspect that this measure is a response to the activity of China in the South China Sea. China has claimed several contested reefs in the South China Sea and constructed military capable airfields. Critics claim that the decision to lift the arms ban suggests that the U.S. is more concerned with China’s activity in the South China Sea than it is with Vietnam’s record of improving human rights in Vietnam. However, President Obama said the arms lift was not related to China.
The trip to Vietnam is meant to strengthen the bond between the U.S. and Vietnam. Both imports and exports between the two countries have steadily increased in recent years. Security experts see the U.S. decision to lift the arms embargo as an effort to form a bond with Vietnam as a trade and security partner in that region.