In a bold move by the Obama administration, the President ended the arms embargo on Vietnam that has been in place for decades. The embargo is being lifted in at a time of increased tensions between the U.S. and China in military and economic sectors.
U.S.-Vietnamese relations have been improving steadily in recent years and the Vietnamese economy is also doing very well. Ending the arms embargo will help Vietnam equip their forces at home and reduce their dependence on Russia for small arms.
When it comes to exports to Vietnam Obama said sales will be determined on a case-by-case basis according to standard export practices. Any sales will be weighed against the state of Vietnamese human rights and other conditions before going through.
“Sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights, but this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself,” said President Obama after meeting with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, reports the BBC.
The arms embargo against Vietnam was put into place in 1984 in an effort to improve human rights standards across the country. The administration maintains that this is not in response to worsening relations with China and is part of an agreement with Vietnam to purchase over 100 Boeing aircraft in a deal worth billions.
Last week Chinese fighters intercepted an American reconnaissance plane flying over the South China Sea. According to Pentagon reports, the Chinese aircraft forced the American plane to move to a lower altitude by maneuvering above it at dangerous distances in international airspace. Chinese authorities defended the action, claiming sovereign authority of the airspace above several man-made islands in the South China Sea.
China and Vietnam are no strangers when it comes to border disputes, and although both countries are technically Communist, they don’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to territories, especially islands in familiar waters. As with the U.S., China has butted heads with Vietnam over who owns what in the South China Sea.
Chinese newspapers warn the U.S. not to turn Vietnam into a “regional tinderbox” amid stressful times. “Both [Vietnam and the U.S.] are clearly willing to let go of the lingering vestiges of war to complete the lengthy process of normalizing bilateral relations that started years ago,” writes the China Daily news. “But whatever common interests the two countries pursue, they should never compromise China’s national interests and threaten regional security.”
“If you want to point to the possibility of tinderbox and possibly igniting something, I would caution China, as President Obama and others have, to not unilaterally move to reclamation activities and the militarization of the islands and areas that are part of the claims being contested today,” said Secretary of State John Kerry, reports the Washington Post.
Beyond giving Vietnam more options when it comes to defense the decision is also likely to curb Russian exports in favor of American small arms. The Obama administration has specifically targeted Russian finance and small arms interests in reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, part of Ukraine.
In 2014, the administration placed sanctions against Russia blocking all Kalashnikov Concern imports to the U.S. The newly-formed Kalashnikov Concern holds several gun brands that were popular low-cost options in the U.S. including Saiga and Baikal.
It’s possible that in the long run this could mean inexpensive imports from Vietnam as well, as their economy continues to grow. “This is the fastest-growing part of the world,” said the President.