America’s Pivot to Asia Passes through Vietnam
Lifting the military embargo on Vietnam has nothing to do with good politics or a desire to help a country that the U.S. helped destroy.
In 2013, Kurt Campbell and Brian Andrews, from the Asia group, wrote a piece on the United States so-called pivot to Asia. In their article, the authors explain that America’s pivot to Asia is a balancing game. Parties participating in that game include Japan, South Korea and of course, China, which is America’s opposing force in the region.
The American pivot to Asia is a “substantial national project: reorienting significant elements of its foreign policy towards the Asia- Pacific region and encouraging many of its partners outside the region to do the same. The “strategic pivot” or rebalancing, launched four years ago, is premised on the recognition that the lion’s share of the political and economic history of the 21st century will be written in the Asia-Pacific region.”
Not too long after their vision of what America’s pivot to Asia is, both Campbell and Andrews deliver the propaganda talking points that are typical of people who hide from the truth. “American engagement with the Asia-Pacific region is premised on a desire for a peaceful, stable and economically prosperous region – a vision shared with America’s Asian partners,” they argue.
In reality, though, America’s pivot to Asia is nothing else than an attempt to curb China’s exponential growth in the region; both as an economic and military power. America has had it too easy in Asia for many years, just as it had it too easy in Europe.
Recently, the rise of China and Russia has made the United States turn to bolder, more irresponsible measures to limit the influence of China and Russia in what is understood as a careless and reckless chase for global hegemony.
Fast-forward to 2016, the current U.S. president, Barack H. Obama has suddenly decided to lift Vietnam’s military embargo. The embargo had been partially lifted back in 2014 in an alleged attempt to improve Vietnam’s maritime defense systems.
Today, the U.S. president, announced the complete lifting of the military embargo on Vietnam, where he is on an official three-day visit that began last night.
“The United States completely lifts the ban on sales of military equipment to Vietnam,” Obama confirmed at a press conference in Hanoi.
The US president said he expects a “deep military cooperation” with Vietnam, a country that until very recently, the U.S. considered an enemy regime.
Obama met in the morning with his Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang, at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi to allegedly converse on economic issues, human rights and the territorial conflict that Vietnam has with China in the South China Sea.
The lifting of the ban on arms sales “is not related to China,” Obama stated in front of the media. In truth, however, the decision to lift the military embargo has everything to do with China.
The Chinese have made it very clear that they want the U.S. far from its territorial waters. China also wants America to stay away from disputed waters, such as the South China Sea, where the Chinese have built artificial islands in the middle of the Pacific.
On those very islands, the Chinese intend to install naval bases to curb even more America’s endless interventionism in the region. Part of the America’s interventionism, as it relates to Vietnam and China, has to do with the dispute over sovereignty claimed by both Vietnam and China over the Paracel and Spratly islands.
Obama is the third US president to visit the country since the end of the war in 1975. Prior to his visit, both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also visited the country.
Vietnam, which endures a complicated relationship with China, its largest trading and ideological partner, against which it fought a brief war in 1979, is today the main opponent in the region, near the Philippines, the Chinese claims.
Beijing and Hanoi dispute the possession of the Paracel and Spratly islands, where on Monday the official Chinese press published that China plans to establish a base for rescue operations.
With an eye on its powerful northern neighbor, Vietnam has strengthened security ties with other countries in the region, such as Japan and Australia, and modernized its armaments, being by far its main supplier.
Meanwhile, the United States insists that freedom of navigation must be guaranteed. About five billion euros in traded goods pass by the South China Sea annually. America’s stake is of about 20% of the total.
Washington has repeatedly expressed concern about the speed at which China builds artificial islands in the disputed area. The U.S. military ships have conducted several patrols near the islands that China considers its own territory.
Obama has denied that the decision to lift the embargo, which had already been partially relaxed two years ago for the acquisition of some maritime defense equipment, is related to the common concern with China.
The end of the ban “was not based on China. It is our desire to complete what has been a long process of progress towards normalization in Vietnam,” he argued, as quoted by Reuters.
So far China has merely stated, both before and after the announcement, that it expects the normalization of ties between Washington and Hanoi after the conflict ended in 1975.
“We applaud the normalization of relations between the US and Vietnam,” stressed the Foreign Ministry via its spokeswoman Hua Chunying in Beijing.
The United States has not yet specified when it plans to sell weapons to Vietnam. Any decision in this regard shall be taken as long as “the communist regime improves its respect for human rights,” said Obama. This, he said, is an area where its record leaves much to be desired.
Last Friday, as a sign of goodwill, Hanoi freed the Catholic priest Nguyen Van Ly, who had been detained for nearly 20 years for his work in defense of freedoms.
But the announcement has already raised the ire of human rights activists. As indicated by Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, the decision of the White House has “thrown overboard much of the capacity remaining to press towards improving respect for human rights in Vietnam, and basically he has not achieved anything in return.”
Obama’s meetings with the authorities in Hanoi also had an economic and commercial aspect. Although China is the main trading partner of Vietnam, the United States is the main buyer of exports from the Southeast Asian country.
Among other deals announced Monday, the Boeing aircraft will sell a hundred aircraft to the low-cost airline VietJet, worth $11,3 billion.
Obama’s visit to Vietnam will conclude on Wednesday, when he will continue to travel to Japan to attend the annual summit of the G-7, the group of most developed countries, and to visit Hiroshima, where in August 6, 1945 the United States dropped the first atomic bomb in history.
Obama will be the first sitting U.S. president to attend the Peace Memorial and participate in a ceremony honoring the victims.
Although the president does not plan to apologize, he hopes that his mere presence serves to turn the page on a matter that 70 years later still causes strong debates.
The US president will travel on Tuesday to Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, where he will conclude his agenda in Vietnam before traveling to Japan.