US President Barack Obama is considering the removal of the decades-old American arms embargo against Vietnam, officials say, in a move that is likely to anger China.
Officials within the Obama administration are weighing the full removal of the sanctions that were imposed against Vietnam in 1984, Reuters reported Tuesday, citing people with knowledge of the discussions.
Some White House and State Department aides believe the complete removal of the bans would be premature at this stage, arguing that Vietnam’s communist government needs to make more progress on human rights.
In contrast, officials at the Pentagon are eager to boost Vietnam’s ability to counter a rising China, a strategy they say is more important than the issue of human rights.
The news comes amid preparations of Obama’s historic visit to the country later this month in a bid to advance the normalization of relations between the two former wartime enemies.
Diplomatic ties between the US and Vietnam have been restored since 1995.
The two countries have significantly improved their ties over the past two decades, with annual, bilateral trade now standing at about $20 billion.
Vietnam has long sought the removal of the ban which are one of the last major vestiges of America’s devastating Vietnam War that lasted from 1965 to 1973 and killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and 58,000 US soldiers.
The Obama administration partially lifted the arms embargo in 2014, allowing shipments of maritime military articles, including patrol boats and reconnaissance aircraft reach Vietnam to allegedly allow Hanoi build up a defense line in the South China Sea to counter Beijing’s growing presence there.
China objected to the move, blasting it as interference in the region’s balance of power.
China claims sovereignty over most of the disputed waters, which serve as a crossing for more than $5 trillion in maritime trade. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam also lay claim to some parts of the sea.
Aside from challenging China’s sovereignty claims on a political he US has on numerous occasions sent warships near Chinese artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The latest instance of such measures occurred on Tuesday, when the USS William P. Lawrence (pictured above) navigated to within 12 nautical miles of a land feature in the sea known as Fiery Cross Reef.