WASHINGTON, May 24, 2016 —
The United States has lifted the ban on arms sales to Vietnam, eliminating one more vestige of the Cold War, President Barack Obama said in Hanoi yesterday.
The move is part of the president’s emphasis on U.S. relations with partners in the Asia-Pacific region.
The United States and Vietnam will cooperate more closely on regional security issues, Obama said during a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang.
“As part of our engagement with [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and the East Asia Summit, we’re working together to advance regional security and stability,” he said. “Vietnam has welcomed American navy ships to your ports. Our militaries are conducting more exchanges and partnering on maritime security.”
The deepening cooperation includes providing patrol boats and training for Vietnam’s coast guard and exercises that will make it easier for Vietnamese and American service members to work more closely together in the event of a humanitarian disaster.
“I can also announce that the United States is fully lifting the ban on the sale of military equipment to Vietnam that has been in place for some 50 years,” Obama said. “As with all our defense partners, 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 and removes a lingering vestige of the Cold War.”
The president stressed the need for stability especially in the South China Sea, where a number of countries -- China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia -- have competing claims on reefs and islands.
The president emphasized the need for international norms and rules to be followed in the region, and said freedom of navigation and overflight must continue in the international waterway. He also said disputes in the region must be resolved peacefully, through legal means, in accordance with international law.
“I want to repeat that the United States will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same,” Obama said.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter supported the president’s decision on eliminating the arms embargo on Vietnam. “Bilaterally, this allows us to make yet further advances in what really is an historic military-to-military relationship with Vietnam,” he said during an in-flight interview on the way to New Haven, Connecticut. “I think this will particularly be reflected in the maritime domain, which is one of the areas that we work most closely with Vietnam in.”
Carter visited Vietnam last year and was the first American official to tour the Vietnamese fleet in Hai Phong harbor. “I’m glad that we took a number of steps there, and I’m glad the president has decided to increase it further,” he said.
China is worrisome to the states of the region, the secretary said. The move “is a reflection of the fact that more and more countries in the region are coming to the United States more and more, to do more and more with us because of their general concern with the security environment in the region,” he said.
Southeast Asia has benefited greatly from the stability of the region, brought about in part by the American presence there, he said.
The secretary did emphasize that the move in Vietnam is not directed against China. “Nothing we do there is directed at China, but there's no question that China's actions there -- particularly those over the last year -- have heightened concern in the region, and that’s another factor which causes [Vietnam] to want to work with us,” he said.
The Chinese have literally built islands on reefs and outcrops in the South China Sea and has built airstrips and ports on the islands and placed radar stations, support buildings, solar arrays and lighthouses on them. The South China Sea is a crucial international waterway through which trillions of dollars of commerce passes each year.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)