President Barack Obama has announced the lifting of an arms embargo on Vietnam, removing a vestige of wartime animosity in an attempt to shore up the communist country in its territorial dispute with an increasingly aggressive China. Obama made the announcement Monday during a news conference in Hanoi with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang (TrAAN Die Kwang).
U.S. lawmakers and activists had urged Obama to press for greater human rights freedoms before lifting the embargo.
Washington partially lifted the embargo on arms in 2014, but Vietnam wanted full access as it tries to deal with China’s land reclamation and military construction in the disputed South China Sea. Lifting the restrictions will anger China, which is deeply suspicious of growing U.S. defense ties in areas it sees as its own.
The presidents attended a signing ceremony celebrating a series of new commercial deals between U.S. and Vietnamese companies. The White House said the value of the transactions was more than $16 billion. The deals included U.S. engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney’s plans to sell 135 advanced engines to Vietnamese air carrier Vietjet and Boeing’s plans to sell 100 aircraft to the airline. The White House says the Boeing deal is expected to support 60,000 American manufacturing and technology jobs.
The White House also announced an agreement between GE Wind and the Vietnamese government to develop 1,000 megawatts of wind-generated electricity.
Obama will try to strike this balance during his three-day visit to a country Washington sees as a crucial, though flawed, partner as China seeks to boost its claim to disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Though Vietnam mostly has Russian equipment, lifting the embargo would be a boost for the country. It would show relations are fully normalized and open the way to deeper security cooperation.