Asia Reacts to President Barack Obama's First Visit to Vietnam

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From May 23 to 25, 2016 President Barack Obama took his first trip to Vietnam. During his trip, President Obama, alongside Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, eliminated the remainder of the arms embargo placed on Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War 41 years ago (the ban had been partially lifted in 2014 but several components remained) and the normalization of US - Vietnam diplomatic ties in 1995. 

Click on a country to jump down to its specific reactions: China, Japan, India, Thailand 

To view additional topics in the Asia Reacts to... series, scroll down or click here.


"Washington's future Vietnam policy will be a 'carrot and stick' approach. Any weapons sales between the two countries will come with strict rules. The US is hoping to drag Hanoi to its side while preventing Vietnam from developing closer relationships with China and Russia." 

"In fact, the U.S. still has unilateral arms embargoes against some countries. We think that the United States ought to abandon its Cold War thinking and put an end to such acts that do not accord with the times." - Yang Yujun, spokesman, Chinese Defense Ministry 

Chinese scholars and experts weigh in on the motivations behind the United States' decision to lift the arms embargo on Vietnam. 

"'It is no coincidence that the changes in US policy have been followed by some south-east Asian countries making changes to their policies on the South China Sea issue." = H.E. Xu Bu, China's ambassador to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) 

China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying conveyed the Chinese government's hope that the recent lifting of the arms embargo would allow Vietnam to continue to develop "normal cooperative relations" with other regional powers.  

"Vietnam is the only Southeast Asian country that could truly cause some trouble for China and Obama's visit is meant to assure that it is the strongest backup for Vietnam in the [South China Sea] dispute." - Zhuang Guotu, Head, Center of Southeast Asian Studies, Xiamen University 

"The US should reflect on who are the revisionists, in terms of both history and territory, and which country is upsetting the status quo. [...] [W]hile it is true China has reclaimed land in [the] South China Sea. It was Vietnam that started such activities. [...] Therefore, blaming China for the deteriorating situation in the East and South China seas is hardly fair." 

"It is welcome that Vietnam improves ties with any other country including the United States. However, such rapprochement should not be used by the United States as a tool to threaten or even damage the strategic interests of a third country." 

"But Vietnam won't become another US ally like the Philippines. It has always been worrying over its gains and losses in its ties with the White House. In the meantime, although Beijing is a  major opponent of Hanoi over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the former is also considered by Hanoi's mainstream elites as a political pillar for Vietnam's stability. The legitimacy of the CPV [Communist Party of Vietnam]'s rule mainly comes from the long-term stability and prosperity of China, a socialist country." 



"The lifting of the arms embargo is significant for another reason. There have been doubts over US' commitment to Southeast Asia within the region. In his joint press conference with President Quang, Obama reiterated US' priority to the Asia-Pacific, and how its comprehensive relations with Vietnam are in sync with its broader strategy." 



"It is essential that the United States not only continue its patrol activities near the man-made islands to embody 'freedom of navigation' on the basis of international law but also to establish a system to intensify pressure against China with countries concerned, including Vietnam." 

"For Tokyo, this is good news when there is still political sensitivity remaining for deeper defense cooperation between Japan and Vietnam due to different political systems." - Tetsuo Kotani, Senior Fellow, Japan Institute of International Affairs 


"It is an ironic and poignant turn of events for Thailand when the US and Vietnam, previously bitter enemies that fought one of the ghastliest wars in contemporary memory [...] are now in a deepening partnership. While Thailand is a formal US treaty ally, with two documents from 1954 and 1962 to prove it, the Bangkok-Washington axis has been unaligned. Vietnam sounds like a partner but it feels and behaves increasingly like an ally. Such is Bangkok's reversal of fortune." 

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