US Arms Embargo Lift: Benefits for Vietnam, Warning for Russia and China

After the US embargo lift Vietnam is able to acquire necessary American weapons systems.

During his first visit to Vietnam, President Barack Obama lifted the US embargo on lethal arms sales to the republic, which was in force for about 50 years. However, according to the Valdai Club expert Vladimir Petrovsky, the embargo lift is not just an act of good will, but also a part of a strategy to contain China. The question is how this will affect the arms and military equipment supplies from Russia.

"I absolutely agree with the point of view that Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam, and the rapprochement of the two countries as a whole is in line with the United States' policy to contain China. The logic is very simple: as long as there is a controversial and sufficiently tense situation in the South China Sea, the neighbors, China's opponents, should be stronger," said Vladimir Petrovsky, senior fellow at Center for the Studies and Forecasting of Russia-China Relations.

At the same time, Petrovsky considers the US arms embargo lift cannot affect the situation in the South China Sea, or, more significantly, the Russian-Vietnamese relations.

"The United States made a stake on the political settlement of the situation. Here we see the difference in approaches. While China is trying to discuss the situation at the bilateral level with a variety of countries, the United States is trying to persuade the ASEAN countries to act collectively as an association. However, lifting the embargo will have no direct impact on the situation right now, "- said the expert.

As for Russian-Vietnamese military-technical cooperation, it is not expected to change dramatically, according to Petrovsky. After the US embargo lift Vietnam is able to acquire necessary American weapons systems. "It has a special meaning, because China and Vietnam have territorial disputes in the South China Sea. For example, if Vietnam has to buy electronic surveillance systems, aircraft and ships detection devices, it can now deal with the Americans."

Petrovsky also believes that Vietnam will not make a turn of 180 degrees and refuse to cooperate with Russia, because it is a traditional buyer of Russian weapons.

"On the eve of Obama's visit [to Vietnam] the Russia-ASEAN summit took place, which was attended by the Prime Minister of Vietnam [Nguyen Xuan Phuc], essentially to assure Russian leaders that the Russian-Vietnamese relations will not suffer," Petrovsky added.

According to Petrovsky, the world is living in an era of multi-vector foreign policy, which is supported by many different countries, including Vietnam.

"Having an export-oriented economy with a fairly strong growth rate, Vietnam enters a variety of free-trade zones. On the one hand, it joined the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, on the other hand, Vietnam signed a free trade zone agreement with the Eurasian Economic Union, opening the opportunity to deepen relations between ASEAN, Russia and the EEU. According to the Vietnamese logic, all these things do not contradict each other "- Petrovsky said.

As to military-technical cooperation, Vietnam will also follow a multi-vector policy.

"Nobody makes friends with someone against someone else, and it is quite logical for Vietnam to try to benefit from relationships with both Russia and the United States <...> and even China! Despite the territorial dispute, China remains Vietnam’s number one trading partner, which means some kind of competition and cooperation combination. All this suggests that the modern geo-economics and geopolitical situation are ambivalent and mixed. And Vietnam consistently follows such a policy,” Petrovsky concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.