Forty-one years after the end of the Vietnam War, relations between Vietnam and the United States have entered a new phase.
During his recent visit to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that an arms embargo against the Southeast Asian nation would be lifted completely. Vietnam had been seeking exactly such a measure, and we welcome the complete normalization of bilateral relations proclaimed by Obama and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang at a joint news conference.
During a speech in front of about 2,000 Vietnamese citizens, Obama touched on the Vietnam War, stating that "war, no matter what our intentions may be, brings suffering and tragedy." He also emphasized future-oriented cooperation between the two countries. The U.S. president did not apologize to Vietnam over the war, but did promise to continue providing support for efforts to cleanse soil of the toxic defoliant chemicals sprayed over the country by the U.S. military.
The U.S. had previously not completely lifted the arms embargo due to Vietnam's human rights record. The policy shift signals the new U.S. focus on checking the expansion of Chinese military power in the South China Sea.
Obama also offered Vietnam patrol ships and other support, likely with an eye to eventually opening the strategically important deep water port of Cam Ranh Bay to visits by U.S. warships. Cam Ranh Bay has already been opened to visits by some other foreign navies, and port calls by Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels that began this spring align with U.S. wishes.
Vietnam also looks like it is aiming for better relations with both Japan and the U.S. Vietnam's participation in the U.S. and Japan-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade pact is one good example of this.
However, just because Vietnam is drawing closer to Japan and the U.S. economically and militarily, that does not mean it is definitely moving away from China.
The year before last, Vietnam-China relations took a temporary dive after China began oil exploration operations in the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea. Even so, Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping paid each other formal visits last year. Also last year, Vietnam's head of state at the time attended a ceremony in Beijing to commemorate the 70th anniversary of victory in the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression -- the Chinese government's name for the second Sino-Japanese War.
However, Nguyen visited Japan just a couple of weeks later for talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The joint declaration released after the talks stated that the leaders were deeply concerned over Chinese land reclamation projects in the South China Sea.
Vietnam has recently rekindled its military cooperation with Russia, from which it had become estranged after the Cold War. It has purchased six submarines from Russia, and recently opened Cam Ranh Bay to visits by Russian warships.
Vietnam's diplomatic tactics are formidable. It is attempting to maintain an appropriate relationship with China, the world's second-largest economy, while at the same time looking to involve as many other nations as possible in the South China Sea issue in an attempt to relieve the pressure being applied by China.
For the time being, China's response to all this -- the lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam included -- has been calm. We would like to see the strengthening of U.S.-Vietnam ties help deepen regional stability.