HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – 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.
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.
President Barack Obama says the decision to lift an arm embargo on Vietnam is not based on relations with China, but on a desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of normalizing relations between the United States and Vietnam.
Obama says the U.S. will continue to analyze weapons sales case-by-case, but it won’t have a ban based on an ideological division between the two countries.
Obama says the U.S. expects greater cooperation between each nation’s militaries, often in response to humanitarian disasters. He also says there is a mutual concern with respect to maritime issues.
China is outwardly lauding the lifting of a U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam, saying it hopes “normal and friendly” relations between the U.S. and Vietnam are conducive to regional stability.
A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry says weapons embargoes are a product of the Cold War and shouldn’t have existed.
China itself remains under a weapons embargo imposed by the U.S. and European Union following 1989’s bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The lifting of the ban may increase South China Sea tensions as China and other nations in the region argue over territory. The lifting of the ban potentially gives Vietnam more opportunity to stand up to China’s ambitions.
In another development, the U.S. is welcoming the Vietnamese government’s approval of the Peace Corps to teach English in Vietnam.
The two nations also reaffirmed efforts to ratify and implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade pact that has struggled to gain traction in Congress during an election year.
The two nations are also stressing efforts to address issues stemming from the Vietnam War with the U.S. investing nearly $90 million in dioxin remediation at the Da Nang International Airport, a project that will finish next year.