President Barack Obama has announced the US is fully lifting its embargo on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam, its one-time enemy. The US is trying to bolster its relationship with its Pacific allies, as China asserts territorial claims. Vietnam is one of several countries in the region involved in maritime disputes with China. The US insists on the right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. In 2014, a row over a Chinese oil rig near the Paracel islands led to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
The Vietnam War ended in April 1975 with the fall of Saigon — now called Ho Chi Minh City — after the United States withdrew combat forces and the North Vietnamese launched a massive offensive to reunite their homeland under communism. While Vietnam and China are neighbors that share a communist ideology, China has aggressively claimed territory in the South China Sea, irking Vietnam and other Southeast Asian neighbors and also raising concerns internationally.
Obama defended the decision to lift the arms ban despite Vietnam’s dismal record on human rights — involving the jailing of dissidents and stalled political reforms — saying sales would be evaluated on a “case-by-case” basis. In 2014, the United States eased restrictions of an arms ban that originally instated during the Vietnam War.