US arms sales to Vietnam might aggravate tensions

By Zhou Shixin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 15, 2014
Adjust font size:

US to partially lift Vietnam arms embargo [File photo]

The United States announced it would partly end its 30-year-long ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam on Oct. 2, 2014, just a day after the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. This move not only symbolizes that the U.S. has updated its efforts to promote a rebalancing strategy in the Asia-Pacific region, but it also explicitly shows that the U.S. still seeks to maintain its dominance by contributing to the deterioration of security in Southeast Asia and East Asia. This is a move against the regional peace and stability which the leaders of the U.S. have advocated on many occasions.

The U.S. decision has been on the agenda for many years as its bilateral relations with Vietnam have evolved from normalization to comprehensive partnership. As an historical enemy and ideological rival of the United States, Vietnam has struggled to improve its relationship with the country, not only for its economic benefit, but also for its political and security ambitions. However, the strategic focus of the U.S. pivoted away from Asia to other regions in the years around the turn of the century, and bilateral relations between the two countries have proceeded very slowly because the U.S. still remembers the human rights issues and communist ideology of Vietnam. Only in recent years, as the economic center of gravity has shifted to Asia, has the U.S. begun to pay more attention to Vietnam and chosen it as an important instrument to counter China's increasing role in the region. Thus, in 2006, the Bush administration eased the ban by permitting the export of certain non-lethal defense materials to Vietnam.

Now the Obama administration even regards Vietnam as a friend in Asia. In July 2013, the U.S. and Vietnam agreed to enhance their relationship under the terms of the Comprehensive Partnership, and "a ministerial-level mechanism was created to oversee all aspects of the bilateral relationship henceforth." Mutual visits by senior officials from the two countries have dramatically increased since then. Looking at the U.S. side, in December 2013, John Kerry paid an official visit to Vietnam and announced that the U.S. would provide Vietnam with assistance valued at up to $18 million, including five high-speed patrol-boats for the Vietnamese Coast Guard. In August 2014, U.S. Senator John McCain visited Vietnam, and six days later, U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey also visited Vietnam, becoming the most senior American military officer to visit the country since 1971. All these officials were received with high courtesies by the Vietnamese government. They also gave precedence to issues of mutual security interests in the South China Sea and the role of a strong Vietnam in regional security.

Ironically, the improving security relationship between the two countries has finally helped the U.S. to prevail in concerns about human rights. The decision to increase aid required Vietnam to take significant steps to improve human rights, "including releases of prisoners of conscience and legal reforms." Spokesperson for the United States Department of State Jennifer Psaki said that the decision reflected modest improvements in Vietnam's human rights record, and "sales of maritime weapons and weapon platforms to Vietnam would be entertained by the U.S. on a case-by-case basis." However, she also said Vietnam still needs to improve its human rights record, which is the very reason why human rights activists have criticized the move. John Sifton from Asia Advocacy of Human Rights Watch argued that the decision would "backfire by encouraging Vietnam to draw the conclusion that the United States would continue to seek better ties regardless of whether fundamental human rights reforms were made." Thus, the issue of human rights is "not a precondition of arms embargo," and the U.S. cares more about its security relationship with Vietnam than other concerns.

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
1   2   Next  

Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from