May 23, 2016 3:18 pm JST

US lifts arms embargo on Vietnam

ATSUSHI TOMIYAMA, Nikkei staff writer

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang attend a press conference at the International Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 23, 2016.

HANOI -- The U.S. has lifted its 41-year-old arms embargo on Vietnam, President Barack Obama announced Monday. The move marks a significant shift in his foreign policy amid China's growing military might.

Obama announced the decision at a joint press conference following a meeting with Nguyen Phu Trong, general secretary of Vietnam's Communist Party. "At this stage both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation," Obama said.

The U.S. sees a growing need to work with Vietnam to counter China's increasing military presence in the South China Sea. The decision, along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, is expected to help deepen the countries' diplomatic cooperation.

Vietnam and China remain at odds over territorial claims in the South China Sea. To keep Beijing in check, the U.S. wants to reinforce defense cooperation with Vietnam, as well as with the Philippines, and removing the ban on weapons exports had been seen as a prerequisite for that.

Washington has prohibited weapons sales to Hanoi since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. In October 2014, the U.S. eased the ban to allow sales of defense equipment Vietnam needs for maritime security, but the ban on lethal weapons exports remained.

This marks Obama's first visit to the Southeast Asian country. He is the third U.S. leader to travel to the former enemy state, following Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech to the Vietnamese public Tuesday. 

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