US should arm Vietnam to counter China

John Kerry & Pham Binh Minh

John Kerry & Pham Binh Minh

Almost 40 years after their war, the U.S. and Vietnam have long since stopped being enemies. Trade between them has grown to more than $20 billion. Yet one major obstacle to a full rapprochement remains: the U.S. embargo on lethal weapons sales to its former adversary. This should be removed.

Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh will make this argument when he meets U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry today in Washington. Vietnamese leaders have long resented the weapons ban, which lumps Vietnam in with North Korea, Zimbabwe and other unfriendly states. And their desire to see the ban removed has grown more urgent since this summer’s confrontation with China, after it parked a massive oil rig in a part of the South China Sea claimed by both countries. Vietnam is eager to buy P-3 Orion surveillance planes from the U.S. to patrol those disputed waters.

China’s aggressiveness has changed the calculus in Washington, as well. The U.S. naturally worries about directly escalating tensions with China, but building up the capabilities of regional allies such as Japan and the Philippines is a way to constrain Chinese adventurism without involving the Seventh Fleet. In particular, selling radar, patrol boats, planes and the like helps other countries increase their “maritime domain awareness” — which is needed to monitor China’s efforts to seize various shoals and reefs. In recent weeks, the White House, the Pentagon and a growing number of lawmakers led by Senator John McCain have made positive noises about relaxing the ban.

The obstacle has been Vietnam’s spotty human-rights record: The regime continues to limit freedom of expression, association and public assembly, and more than 100 people charged with political offenses languish in prison.

Vietnam has made some gestures toward improving its record, by registering more places of worship in minority areas and releasing some long-serving political prisoners. But the country has yet to ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and still has several vague laws on its books that allow for detaining dissidents on the flimsiest of excuses. The regime needs to clarify or set aside measures in its penal code such as Article 258, which has been used to prosecute bloggers for infringing on “the interests of the State.”

Further changes will require a broader consensus within the regime. And by lifting the ban now, the U.S. might lose some leverage to push for reform down the road. On the other hand, ending the weapons-ban could strengthen the hands of those in Vietnam who favor closer ties with the West. Beyond arms sales — which anyway won’t be huge given Vietnam’s lack of resources — the U.S. should look to enhance military-to-military ties, increase the number of joint exercises and naval visits, and integrate Vietnamese forces into the larger effort to keep open the South China Sea.

Lifting the embargo won’t suddenly transform Vietnam into an ally against China, which after all exports about $37 billion annually to its southern neighbour. But what’s important is that it will make Vietnam and the U.S. better friends.

Source: Bloomberg – Arm Vietnam to Counter China

Categories: Defence & Aerospace

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

3 replies

  1. I agree that the weapons ban must go and additionally, it’s about time the US initiate some appropriate actions to remedy its past and still lingering hostility against this victim of American miscalculation and aggression:
    . No nation was subjected to the US total destruction like Vietnam, spanning several generations and will continue for several more… from the post WWII payment for French recolonization of Vietnam (1945-1954) to the replacement of France after the Geneva Accords and subsequent 20 years of utmost physical exhibition of forces, chemical experimentation and political division, punctuated by 3 millions anti-Vietnam expats citizens actively seeking regime change.
    . Consequences of the US involvement in Vietnam were not just the explosives on the ground and Agent Orange chemical in the soil that continue to kill but, also 20 years economic embargo (1975-1995) which retarded Vietnam’s recovery and the continued use of “human rights” card to pepper Vietnam’s search for political stability and resolution. Without even emphasizing its own “rights” record of Guantanamo and Ferguson, Missouri types or the comparison with neighbors such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand… can the US really justify its perpetual focus on Vietnam’s human rights record? Has the US ever looked into to effect of well resourced Vietnamese Americans in their relentless campaign to destabilize Vietnamese government (no less than dozens 24/7 radio, TV stations, YouTube internet…), domestic unrest instigation (often, rewarded with legal migration after prison terms)? How fair can it be politically, for a Vietnam to face non-stop opposition from risk-free 5 millions former citizens or 6% of total population who detachment was as much emotional as ideological?
    In summary, the US should immediately and unconditionally, strengthen Vietnam’s sovereignty defense with suitable weapons transfer, politically support Vietnam’s diplomatic / legal efforts to repel Chinese aggressions and stop using Vietnamese Americans as a tool of convenience for negotiations. Unjust war has consequences such as the US can’t call all shots any more… It’s not too late for remedy with responsible acts!



  1. U.S. senators seek strategy to stop China’s South China Sea reclamation | China Daily Mail

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