Barack Obama has scripted a chapter in world history by lifting the embargo on the export of arms to Vietnam. Much as the American President harps on the need to "develop ties and draw a line under the old enmity", Monday’s watershed rapprochement also underscores the shared concerns of both Washington and Hanoi over China’s increasing military clout. The grandstanding in the Vietnamese capital scarcely overshadowed the game theory being vigorously pursued by Beijing, though it might have relegated to the footnotes the abiding visuals of a victim of the napalm bomb.
Obama’s signal of intent was almost a farewell message to the protagonists… 50 years after the worst confrontation since World War II. He has above all underlined the dire imperative to "eliminate a lingering vestige of the Cold War”. The mending of fences with Cuba was one major step towards that noble end; if , as he asserts, both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation, what matters most of all is that the armies of the two countries must deepen cooperation.
An equal responsibility devolves on the next occupant of the White House to carry the process forward. Landmark initiatives between two countries that were once at war shape history as do conflicts and civil strife. Suffice it to register that Obama has announced an initiative that no other US President has had the nerve to try. The world must now await the upshot of his back-to-back visit to Hiroshima.
It is fairly obvious that Obama is attempting to effect a diplomatic balance with Vietnam, and the initiative in the twilight phase of his presidency comes amidst Chinese efforts to strengthen claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea, one of the world&’s most important waterways.
The Vietnamese President, Tran Dai Quang’s response mirrored the entente cordiale — “Vietnam very much appreciates the US decision to completely lift the ban on lethal weapon sales, which is the clear proof that both countries have completely normalised relations.” Clearly, Obama has ignored the pressure from US lawmakers and activists who had insisted that the Communist leadership must guarantee greater freedoms before the embargo is lifted.
The US had partially lifted the embargo in 2014, but Vietnam wanted full access to arms not least because of China&’s land reclamation and military construction in the seas nearby. Two decades after President Clinton restored relations with Vietnam, Obama is anxious to upgrade equations with the emerging power. Thanks to an expanding middle class, there is a promising market for US goods.
Above all, Vietnam could in due course of time be in a position to countenance China&’s growing strength. The development would have delighted Jean Luc Godard and the cinema greats, from whose film we borrow the title of this comment.