Who would have thought that the United States would consider lifting an arms embargo on Vietnam after fighting a losing war there. And it’s under consideration because Vietnam is concerned about encroachment by a fellow communist country, China, which helped arm the victorious North Vietnamese against the U.S.
Monday’s visit by President Barack Obama marks the third such trip by an American president since diplomatic relations were re-established in 1995.
Weighing heavily on Obama against lifting the 41-year arms embargo is Vietnam’s human rights record. One prominent political prisoner was released Friday. But Vietnam is said to detain the most political prisoners in Southeast Asia. Media is repressed and public protest is subject to crackdown.
Vietnam and the U.S. have a common interest in reversing China’s provocative behavior in the South China Sea. Both countries have common interest in developing stronger trade and cultural ties. Where does human rights fit into the equation?
What Obama Must Say in Vietnam
Editorial Board – The Washington Post
The closer economic and security relationship with the United States has a sound logic. Vietnam has joined the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Congressional Research Service recently called “perhaps the most ambitious [free-trade agreement] undertaken by the United States,” an important anchor of the U.S. pivot toward Asia. Vietnam is also at the front line of tension over China’s grab for maritime power in the South China Sea at the expense of its neighbors. Vietnam is eager to buy more high-tech weaponry from the United States. Mr. Obama is considering whether to lift the remaining ban on arms sales, partially relaxed two years ago to allow maritime purchases.
The lifting of the arms ban appears reasonable, but Mr. Obama should insist on real improvements on human rights before proceeding. What Mr. Obama says really matters, and Vietnamese leaders cannot get a free pass.
Obama’s Vietnam Visit: Does Defiance Against China Mean U.S. Arms Sales?
Donald Kirk – Forbes
Probably we’ll have to wait a while before Vietnam turns into a major buyer of U.S. weaponry. Remember, Russia also sells warplanes, at far cheaper prices. Others also will be competing to export arms as Vietnam undergoes its largest military buildup since the Vietnam War.
Certainly the U.S. does not want to plunge into war with China whether in Korea or in Japanese-held Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea or in the South China Sea. Nor does China want to go to war with its old-time friend and ally, Vietnam. Rather, the Chinese want to increase their presence in the South China Sea, looking for oil and natural gas, building air strips in the Spratly Islands, where the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam have all staked claims, challenging all these countries to stop them.
A real question in considering the standoff between Vietnam and China is how far the U.S. would be willing to go on behalf of the Communist government in Hanoi, often accused of suppressing signs of dissent.
Vietnam: Obama’s Visit Should Advance Human Rights
Basic freedoms of expression, association, and assembly are extremely limited. The media and Internet are controlled and censored. The Vietnamese Communist Party controls all public institutions and uses them to maintain its hold on power. Genuine elections do not take place; those being held in May for the National Assembly are a form of political theater. The courts are party organs and lack independence. Similarly, independent trade unions are not permitted.
“Obama should stand next to Vietnam’s leaders in public and call on them to respect the right to freely choose government representatives, stand for office, and peacefully advocate for democracy,” said (Human Rights Watch Asia Director Bruce) Adams. “If this trip is partially about legacy-building, as some suggest, there can be no more meaningful legacy than helping the people of Vietnam achieve fundamental reforms.”
Amid Protests, Vietnamese Look to Obama’s Visit
Duyen Bui – The Diplomat
The Vietnamese government will be laying out the red carpet for the leader of its former enemy, with whom it now seeks alliances with in order to improve its troubled economy and hedge security threats from neighboring China. Vietnam’s people, meanwhile, hope the leader of the United States can throw his weight behind concerns about government accountability and basic freedoms.
There will be a state dinner to welcome Obama, but if the president is wise he will stay away from eating fish. Vietnam is well-known for its many delicious fish dishes, but now the seafood could be poisoned, thanks to suspected chemical pollution from industrial companies.
Go Ahead and Sell Arms to Vietnam
Editorial Board – Bloomberg View
Vietnam has become one of the world’s most eager arms importers; from 2011 to 2015, its purchases — primarily from Russia — grew nearly 700 percent. Vietnamese leaders would prefer more advanced American equipment…
It’s also true, unfortunately, that Vietnam’s progress toward improving its human-rights record since the U.S. resumed limited arms sales in 2014 has been disappointing.
…fundamental change cannot be imposed from outside. It makes more sense for the U.S. to strengthen and work with people in the regime who favor closer ties and a more open economy and society….
Two Myths About the United States and Vietnam
Jonathan Zimmerman – Foreign Affairs
Vietnam won its independence from China in 1428, but France conquered it in the 1800s and ruled it until 1954. French authorities banned the Chinese characters that the Vietnamese had used to read and write, and they extracted natural resources from the colony with a brutal ferocity…
Compared to these occupations, the United States’ war in Vietnam was a blip on the historical radar. I realized that during my own visit to Vietnam several years ago, when I asked one of my hosts, a physician at a hospital in Hanoi, why there wasn’t more anti-American sentiment in the country. “Before you were the French and the Chinese, and they were here for a lot longer,” he said. “What makes you think you’re so special?”
How to Bring Vietnam Into the U.S. Fold
Sandy Pho – Real Clear World
While Vietnam values its economic relationship with the People’s Republic of China, it prefers an enhanced American regional security role to the prospect of Chinese military dominance. It’s easy to understand why Vietnamese are wary of an enormous neighbor that has historically viewed Vietnam as a tiny, uncivilized client state. According to a 2015 Pew survey, less than 20 percent of Vietnamese have a positive view of China, while 76 percent think favorably of the United States.
The enthusiasm with which Vietnam welcomes a stronger U.S. presence may be viewed as “provocative” in China, and could result in unintended consequences for Vietnam if President Obama mishandles his messaging in Hanoi.