Despite the administration's protestations to the contrary, it seems it's rapprochement with Vietnam is influenced in large part by China's recent flexing of it's muscles in the region, an ironic development given that the Red Chinese once aided the Vietnamese communists in their war against the US.
In any case, it says a lot about Obama that he is more comfortable with selling arms to a communist regime that imprisons dissidents than he is allowing Americans to buy firearms to defend themselves:
“Nguyen Ngoc Truong, president of Vietnam's Center for Strategic Studies and International Development, hailed the move as an important symbolic development between the two countries.
‘This is very good news, it is of great importance for Vietnam,' he told CNN. ‘It does not mean Vietnam will be (a) very big buyer of American weapons straight away, but (it) is important in the future. The symbolism is more important.'
He said China would be watching the ‘developing strategic partnership' between the United States and Vietnam closely — and said he expected it to contribute to peace and stability in the region.
‘China should think twice over anything they can do to Vietnam or the South China Sea,' he said. ‘They should get the message.'
Human rights concerns
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.
However, Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth said via Twitter that Obama was opting to ‘arm Vietnam as (an) anti-China ally rather than care about its ongoing repression.'
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Asia division, said that Washington had squandered a key tool to pressure Vietnam to improve its human rights record.
‘In one fell swoop, President Obama has jettisoned what remained of U.S. leverage to improve human rights in Vietnam — and basically gotten nothing for it,' he said.
‘President Obama just gave Vietnam a reward that they don't deserve.'
In 2014, the United States eased restrictions of an arms ban that originally instated during the Vietnam War.
Obama also thanked Vietnam for its continued aid in addressing what he called ‘the painful legacy of war,' referring to attempts to locate veterans missing in action, the removal of landmines and the cleaning up of Agent Orange.
‘Symbol of renewed ties'
Earlier Monday, the two leaders shook hands in front of a large bronze bust of Vietnamese communist revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh inside the Presidential Palace.
‘We've come here as a symbol of the renewed ties we have made over the last several decades and the comprehensive partnership we have created over the course of my presidency,' Obama said.
Obama is on a weeklong trip to Asia to boost economic and security cooperation in the region and is expected to head south to Ho Chi Minh City before traveling to Japan.
President Bill Clinton reopened diplomatic ties with Vietnam in 1995 and in 2000 became the first president to travel there since the evacuation of U.S. civilian and military personnel 25 years earlier.”