Vietnam’s President appeals to Washington

President Truong Tan Sang had strong words for China. Photo courtesy of AP.

President Truong Tan Sang had strong words for China. Photo courtesy of AP.

The President of Vietnam, Truong Tan Sang, has appealed to the United States to lift the remains of its ban on the sale of weapons to Vietnam.

Speaking in New York as world leaders gathered at the United States, he said the lifting of the ban would signal that relations between Hanoi and Washington had been fully normalised.

He told the Associated Press that an expected visit by President Obama to Vietnam this autumn would also consolidate the relationship.

Mr Sang’s appeal to the US contrasted with his criticism of China over its construction of military bases in the South China Sea.

“The East Sea is indeed a hot spot of the region and the world at this point, and in the last year China has done large-scale reclamation of submerged islands to make them very big islands,” he told AP.

“We believe that these acts by China violate international law.”

Vietnam took a major step towards improved ties with Washington in July when the General-Secretary of the Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, was greeted by President Obama in the Oval Office. It was the first ever visit to Washington by a leader of the Vietnam Communist Party.

Disputes over human rights remain the main impediment to a more whole hearted reconciliation between the two sides.

The United States eased its ban on the sale of weapons to Vietnam last year to help it build up its maritime forces in the face of the China threat.

But the Obama administration has made clear that Vietnam must improve its treatment of dissidents and other government critics before the ban can be lifted permanently.

It’s also demanding an improvement in labour rights before Vietnam can be admitted to the planned Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Mr Sang said that Vietnam would continue to discuss human rights. He said legislation was being planned to improve the situation but gave no firm dates for such a plan.

Vietnam recently last week released a prominent independent blogger, Ta Phong Tan, from prison. But by sending her into exile in the United States, activists say the communist authorities have made no concession to the cause of freedom of expression.

Civil society groups say the atmosphere on the ground remains as repressive as ever, with the police continuing to harass them and detain selected individuals for interrogation.

Military ties between the two former enemies, however, are continuing to strengthen.

A military delegation led by the Deputy Minister of Defence is currently visiting Washington.