Home Contact Us  
   

Southeast Asia - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5040, 27 May 2016
 
Obama in Vietnam: Only Permanent Interests
Amruta Karambelkar
Provisional PhD scholar, Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, JNU
 

The US and Vietnam are the strangest bedfellows in the Asia Pacific. US President Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam received wide attention, particularly because of the lifting of the embargo on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam. The ban was eventually expected to ease but it seems to have happened much sooner. This appears to be one of the significant measures undertaken within the so-called US ‘rebalance’. Both the presidents have stated - Obama more clearly - that the elevated bilateral ties are not aimed against Beijing. At the same time, however, both have also expressed concern regarding developments in the South China Sea and freedom of navigation. The US ‘rebalancing’ is tangible through this visit, along with other recent US visits and initiatives in the region.

The US and Vietnam have been gradually striving to normalise their relationship. The process started after the end of the Cold War and the landmark visit to Vietnam in 2000 by then President Bill Clinton with the aim of reconciliation. Just like Clinton’s, Obama’s Vietnam trip has happened towards the end of his presidency. Sixteen years since Clinton’s historic visit, a lot has changed between the former enemies. Most of the present Vietnamese population was born after the war, and the negative psychological cloud of the war has passed. The enthusiastic welcome that Obama received from the civilian community is an indicator of the changing times.

The US-Vietnam joint statement specifies their commitment to respecting their “respective political systems.” This could be a reference to how many in Vietnam see the US’ insistence on human rights and political freedom as an attempt to destabilise the communist regime. Those specific words in the joint statement should therefore help assure the Vietnamese regime and sceptics of US-Vietnam rapprochement. It also indicates a mutual understanding between the two - that the Vietnamese cannot be pushed against the wall over the issue of human rights. Both are different political systems are bound to have differing perspectives regarding governance. Indeed, President Obama admitted that both sides have differences, which may indicate that it would not be as contentious an issue in bilateral relations as before.

Since the end of the Cold War, Vietnam has recalibrated its foreign policy to establish relations with the Western world. Since its domestic restructuring programme of the ‘90s called Doi Moi, and after joining the WTO in 2007, Vietnam’s economy attracted investments from across the spectrum. The US today is the seventh largest investor in Vietnam, and in the words of Obama, “…the single largest market for Vietnam’s exports.” Vietnam is also a part of the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could potentially challenge Chinese economic preponderance in Southeast Asia. In recent years, Vietnam has been consciously trying to diversify its FDI sources so as to reduce reliance on any one country.

Obama’s visit dropped other goodies in the Vietnamese kitty. A Fulbright University will be set up with the aim of making it a world-class university in Vietnam. That scores brownie points with the youth, and serves as a soft power instrument to iron out remaining historical tensions. The US and Vietnam also expanded the civil nuclear partnership that would aid the energy starved, rapidly industrialising, Vietnam. A joint commission on civil nuclear cooperation will be set up to implement the 123 Agreement.

The highlight of the visit is the lifting of sale of lethal arms to Vietnam. It is a bold move. The ban on non-lethal weapons was lifted in 2013. Now that the embargo is completely done away with Vietnam can purchase hardware as per its requirements and from wider sources. Vietnam has been modernising its military over the past few years, and particularly building its navy towards sea denial capabilities. In the process, it has largely relied on traditional security partners such as Russia and India, but has gradually turned to Western suppliers also. The US has been strengthening Vietnam’s coast guard. A quid pro quo, one can imagine, is the possibility of greater US access to the strategic Cam Ranh Bay in the future. Importantly, the US is already taking advantage of the commercial facilities at the Bay.

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.

In 2015, the Pentagon launched the Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) for Southeast Asia. The MSI, a part of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Asia Pacific strategy, aims at improving maritime domain awareness, enhancing capabilities, and creating “strong, independent partners in the region.” Accordingly, the plans for Vietnam include assistance in vessel modernisation, maritime patrol aircraft, support for C3 systems in search and rescue operations, and training, although the funds for Vietnam are only US$2 million whereas Philippines gets US$41 million. The ‘rebalancing’ to Asia, the MSI and the lifting of the embargo - it all adds up. The course is set, although it is a long way yet for bilateral security cooperation. Nonetheless, the increasing ease between US and Vietnam, which transcends history and ideology, reflects the realpolitik of Asia Pacific security. Because there are only permanent interests.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
 
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Indo-Pacific
Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Indus-tan
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within


OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


 

Browse by Publications

Commentaries 
Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 
China 
Myanmar 
Afghanistan 
Iran 
Pakistan 
India 
J&K  

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Indo-Pak 
Military 
Terrorism 
Naxalite Violence 
Nuclear 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India and Vietnam: Strengthening Bilateral Relations

Phillipines and the MILF-GPH Peace Agreement

Vietnam: Gay Pride Parade

Shangri La Dialogue: Southeast Asian Dynamics

Censorship Struggle and Social Change in Vietnam

Indo-Vietnam Defence Relations: Strategically Responsive

Xi Jinping in Vietnam: Attempts at Reconciliation?

Vietnam and the South China Sea: Hypothetical Scenarios

The Curious Case of Tata Steel in Vietnam

ADD TO:
Blink
Del.icio.us
Digg
Furl
Google
Simpy
Spurl
Y! MyWeb
Facebook
 
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2017
 January
 2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010  2009
 2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002  2001
 2000  1999  1998  1997
 
 

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

 
Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2017, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.