Obama lifts US arms embargo on Vietnam
Published 24/05/2016 | 02:30
Barack Obama has announced the lifting of a 50-year-old arms embargo on Vietnam in a historic signal of warming relations between former enemies that waged a bloody Cold War conflict.
The move was unveiled by Mr Obama on a visit to Hanoi as the two countries face the shared challenge of Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
The US leader was at pains to insist that the lifting of the embargo was not linked to Beijing's belligerence, although few security analysts shared that interpretation.
China's official reaction was subdued. "The arms embargo is a product of the Cold War and should never have existed," said a spokesman. "We welcome normal relations between Vietnam and the United States."
But Xu Bu, China's ambassador to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), struck a more confrontational tone. Writing in the 'Straits Times', he described the US as "dictatorial and overbearing" and dismissed tensions over the disputed seas as "intentionally churned and hyped".
And campaigners criticised Mr Obama for lifting the embargo without securing public concessions from Vietnam on its dismal human rights record.
"In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of US leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, the US-based pressure group.