10/06/2014, 00.00
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Washington to sell weapons to former foe to contain Beijing in South China Sea

by Paul N. Hung

Vietnamese deputy prime minister visits Washington to discuss maritime security and a closer partnership. The US government is considering selling defence equipment to Vietnam, in an "anti-Chinese" move. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Ho Chi Minh City (AsiaNews) - US Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh met to discuss current issues during an official two-day visit (1-2 October) by the Vietnamese official in Washington.

The two discussed security in the South and East China Seas, Beijing's "imperialism" in the region, strengthening bilateral partnership ahead of the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries (1995-2015), as well as implementing past agreements.

In view of this, the United States could soon supply its former Vietnamese foe with weapons and defence equipment.

The United States and Vietnam resumed diplomatic relations in 1995, after a long after the Vietnam War. In two decades, bilateral trade turnover has reached US$ 20 billion.

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Phạm Bình Minh spoke at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC, where he praised the "attempts to overcome differences".

Both nations have a stake in ongoing maritime disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, a key area for the United States because two thirds of the world's maritime trade transit through it and the development of seabed oil and natural gas resources.

Every year some US$ 5.3 trillion worth of goods are shipped through the area, a figure bound to increase.

International policy experts told AsiaNews that the situation in the sea "is becoming more serious," because China "is exerting economic and military pressure on the region's nations," and its "Communist leaders seem to do what they want," he said.

Increasingly concerned with the balance of power in the region, the United States is willing to cooperate with Vietnam in areas of shared interests like "maritime security".

With cooperation between Washington and its old foe growing, Secretary of State John Kerry told Pham Binh Minh that Washington would adjust its policies to allow transfer of defence equipment to Vietnam.

For the US, the change of course and supplying weapons to Hanoi is not meant as a threat to China, but is a recognition of Vietnam's (albeit very small) "progress" in the area of human rights.

For Vietnam's deputy prime minister, it will "not harm to Vietnam's relations with other countries including China." 

However, an escalation in the region and a new geo-strategic balance cannot be excluded.

Vietnam (and the Philippines) has been increasingly worried about Beijing's imperialism in the South China and East China seas. In fact, Manila has also taken its case to a UN court.

The Chinese government claims most of the sea (almost 85 per cent), including sovereignty over the disputed Spratly and Paracel Islands, against the opposition of Vietnam, Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

For the United States, which backs the claims of Southeast Asia nations, Beijing's so-called 'cow tongue' line is both "illegal" and "irrational".

Recently, even Vietnam's bishops urged China to "convert to the Virgin of Fatima" to boost peace "in Asia and the world."

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