It has been almost 20 years since the United States and Vietnam officially normalized relations. Last week, Vietnam’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister said it is time for U.S. officials to end what he called the ‘abnormal’ ban on arms to Vietnam. Pham Binh Minh also gave a warning to countries in East Asia and the Pacific: He said the area faces a high risk of military conflict because of territorial disputes.
Pham Binh Minh was in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly meetings. He spoke to the Asia Society last Wednesday.
Last year, the leaders of the United States and Vietnam decided to form a U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership. Mr. Minh noted that, because of the agreement, ties between the two countries are normal. But that is not how he described the ban.
“…and the ban on the lethal weapons to Vietnam is abnormal, so you (should) lift the ban, meaning that the relation(ship) is normal.”
Pham Binh Minh was asked if he believes that lifting the weapons ban might anger China. He said he does not think so.
“If we do not buy weapons from the United States, we still buy weapons from other countries. So why (should) China (be) bothered about that?”
Sources have been reported as saying that discussions among American officials about easing the arms restrictions are taking place in Washington. They say those discussions could result in a decision by the end of the year.
Bonnie Glaser attended Mr. Minh’s Asia Society speech. Ms. Glaser is an expert on China at the Centers for Strategic and International Studies. She believes an end to the arms ban is near.
“There is support from key members of Congress. There is a sense in the executive branch that this is a legacy of a past period in US-Vietnam relations, that it’s time to normalize that particular aspect of the US-Vietnam relationship, and from the remarks of the deputy prime minister (that) he, too, seemed to think that this would simply signify movement away from what has been an abnormal to a more normal relationship.”
Ms. Glaser says Mr. Minh’s comments about China suggest that Vietnam would be able to deal with criticism from its much larger neighbor.
Mr. Minh said that what he called “strategic distrust” among major powers is rising. He also said the security environment has worsened for several reasons. They include what he called “unchecked unilateralism,” military modernization, an arms build-up and sea and territorial disputes.
“Never before have we seen a greater risk for miscalculation and incidents that might escalate into military conflicts as in the past few months.”
Mr. Minh said the Asia-Pacific area should be one of peace and development, a place where international law and local rules of order are respected.
He said the major powers should take the greatest responsibility for peace and security in the area. And he said his country can help by enacting greater economic reforms and being more active within ASEAN -- the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“And Vietnam will be more responsible to ASEAN, and Vietnam will also join other ASEAN members to make sure that ASEAN will be at the center of the Asia-Pacific Security architecture.”
Vikram Nehru is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He noted that, during his speech, Mr. Minh confirmed that Vietnam’s dispute with China over the South China Sea remains a serious issue.
“What he wanted to make sure was that resolution of the South China Sea problem should be through the use of international law, should be through peaceful means and should be done in a way that was multilateral in nature.”
Professor Jonathan London is a Vietnam expert at City University of Hong Kong. He says Vietnam wants to peacefully end its territorial disputes by negotiating through ASEAN. He says that by doing so, Vietnam is not only seeking to control a complex situation, it is also demonstrating its refusal to be subject to foreign pressures.
I’m Christopher Cruise.
This story was reported by VOA correspondent Victor Beattie in Washington. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Christopher Cruise edited it.
Words in This Story
abnormal – adj. unusual; different from what is normal or average
ban – n. an official restriction
arms – n. military equipment; weapons
partnership – adj. relations between partners
complex – adj. of or having many parts that are difficult to understand; not simple