Don’t tie US weapons sales to hu­man rights is­sues: Viet­nam

The China Post - - GUIDE POST - BY LOLITA C. BALDOR

Ques­tions about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions by the Viet­namese gov­ern­ment should have no bear­ing on whether the U.S. should fully re­move its ban on lethal weapons’ sales to Hanoi, Viet­nam’s de­fense min­is­ter said Mon­day af­ter meet­ing with U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Ash Carter.

De­fense Min­is­ter Phung Quang Thanh and Carter said the two na­tions are ex­pand­ing their de­fense co­op­er­a­tion to in­clude plans to con­duct mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions to­gether. The U.S. will also help Viet­nam pre­pare to begin par­tic­i­pat­ing in U.N. peace­keep­ing mis­sions.

Asked if the hu­man rights is­sue should play a role in the U.S. mil­i­tary re­la­tion­ship with Viet­nam, Carter would only say that U.S. of­fi­cials rou­tinely have “very can­did” dis­cus­sions on po­lit­i­cal and in­ter­nal is­sues with Viet­namese lead­ers, and said those is­sues in­ter­sect with se­cu­rity mat­ters.

West­ern na­tions and in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights groups have re­peat­edly raised con­cerns about hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions by Viet­nam’s au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ment. Viet­nam is a oneparty state that squelches dis­sent, and Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has said that scores are still be­ing de­tained for ex­er­cis­ing their right to free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Hanoi says only those who vi­o­late laws are put be­hind bars.

Speak­ing dur­ing a news con­fer­ence af­ter the meet­ing with Carter, Thanh said through an in­ter­preter that the full re­moval of the weapons sales re­stric­tions would be “in line with the in­ter­ests of both coun­tries. And I think we should not at­tach that de­ci­sion to the hu­man rights is­sue.”

And he of­fered a broad de­fense of the gov­ern­ment, say­ing it re­spects the rights and free­doms of the peo­ple.

Last Oc­to­ber the U.S. par­tially lifted its ban on weapons sales to Viet­nam, al­low­ing only the sale of lethal mar­itime se­cu­rity and sur­veil­lance ca­pa­bil­i­ties. To date no weapons have flowed to Viet­nam.

Carter also said that the U.S. will pro­vide US$18 mil­lion to Viet­nam to buy ves­sels for the Coast Guard. And the two men signed a joint state­ment call­ing for ex­panded co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the two mil­i­taries.

For the last sev­eral years, the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Pen­tagon have been fo­cus­ing more on the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion, in what’s been called a strate­gic pivot af­ter more than a decade of war and in­tense fo­cus on the Mid­dle East. The U.S. in­sists the re­bal­ance is not aimed at China and its grow­ing mil­i­tary, but the U.S. has worked to ex­pand and so­lid­ify re­la­tions with na­tions across the re­gion, in­clud­ing many who have been at odds with China’s moves to ex­ert its sovereignty in the South China Sea, which the U.S. and oth­ers con­sider in­ter­na­tional wa­ters.

Bei­jing has also bris­tled as Amer­ica has moved more ships and other as­sets to the re­gion, ex­panded mil­i­tary ex­er­cises and ro­tated troops more fre­quently in and out of other Pa­cific na­tions.

An­other key is­sue dis­cussed by Carter and Thanh in­volved the land recla­ma­tion projects be­ing con­ducted by China, Viet­nam and oth­ers in the South China Sea.

Carter had said he would urge Viet­namese of­fi­cials to give up their recla­ma­tion projects and Thanh ac­knowl­edged the is­sue did come up. Asked if Viet­nam would agree to the re­quest, he was largely non­com­mit­tal, say­ing Hanoi has not ex­panded its build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in the South China Sea.

In­stead, he said, the work be­ing done is to pre­vent soil ero­sion to en­sure the safety of the peo­ple and mil­i­tary mem­bers living on the land. And he said there are mil­i­tary per­son­nel on 19 re­mote is­lands or other fea­tures.

Carter, how­ever, said the gov­ern­ment of Viet­nam is con­sid­er­ing a per­ma­nent halt to the recla­ma­tion pro­gram, and that they all sup­port a peace­ful ne­go­ti­a­tion process to end the dis­puted claims in the South China Sea.

China’s rapidly ex­pand­ing build­ing projects has raised ten­sions and caused con­cerns among the United States, Viet­nam and other coun­tries in the re­gion.

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