U.S. poised to end ban on arms sales to Vietnam, keep sanctions on Myanmar


The United States isn’t ready to fully shed sanctions in Myanmar, instead awaiting progress on issues including human rights as the government run by former opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi takes charge, the U.S. ambassador to the Southeast Asian nation indicated, The Wall Street Journal reports.

A continuation of Myanmar’s democratic transition and improved human rights would “make it easier for people to look more positively on sanctions,” U.S. Ambassador Scott Marciel said.

But the White House appears poised to end a ban on arms sales to Vietnam in time for a landmark visit by President Barack Obama later this month, despite misgivings from some lawmakers and human rights advocates, including Tim Rieser, aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Foreign Policy’s The Cable notes:

The United States “needs to make clear, as we do when we give aid to other governments, that we’re not going to write a blank check to the Vietnamese military,” Rieser told Foreign Policy.

During a single week in March, Vietnamese authorities convicted seven bloggers and activists and sentenced them to prison. The country’s Communist Party commands a sweeping monopoly on power, and Vietnam remains one of the most repressive regimes in the world, according to Human Rights Watch.

“Lifting the ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam would be premature and undeserved at this time, unless Hanoi takes critically needed steps to address its poor human rights record,” said John Sifton, Asia Advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.

Democratic U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez, a member of the Congressional Caucus on Vietnam who also has a large Vietnamese-American voting bloc in her California district, said lifting the embargo would be “giving a free pass to a government that continually harasses, detains and imprisons its citizens.”

The White House today announced that the President “will meet with members of civil society, the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative, entrepreneurs, and the business community” during his trip to Vietnam.
A Facebook poll conducted by dissident group Viet Tan (above) from April 23-30, 2016 received over 6,000 online responses, including a common sentiment: “I want and hope that Mr. Obama will speak directly with the democracy activists of Vietnam.”

Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, is expected to press Vietnam to release unconditionally political prisoners and reform its laws to comply with its international commitments, during a two-day trip to Vietnam that began on Monday, Reuters reports:

Relations between the United States and Vietnam have moved to a new level in the past two years as Washington seeks to make a new ally in Asia, but the communist nation’s zero-tolerance approach to its detractors remains a sticking point.

Thich Quang Do, the Patriarch of Vietnam’s Unified Buddhist Church (left), has called on Obama to use his forthcoming trip to the Communist state to highlight continuing human rights abuses. His appeal comes after a broad, international coalition of human rights groups expressed “common concern over Vietnam’s continued repression of its citizens’ fundamental human rights.”

“In recent years, Vietnam has opened its economy and become an increasingly active player in the Asia-Pacific region and on the global stage,” the patriarch wrote. “But the government has made no attempt to open the political system, nor establish the institutions necessary to safeguard its citizens’ rights. Forty-one years after the end of the Vietnam War, we still have no free press, no democratic opposition parties and no independent civil society.”

Murray Hiebert, regional expert of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told VOA on Monday that there is “quite a bit of discussion happening in Washington right now,” especially when Vietnam is working closely with the U.S. on issues such as maritime security “in the context of China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.”

But he said even if the arms embargo is lifted in full, “it doesn’t mean Vietnam can actually, and will be allowed to, buy specific items.” Hiebert added the U.S. could still reject individual arms transfer applications going forward if there were serious violations of human rights.

Will President Obama Prioritize the Release of Prisoners of Conscience in Vietnam?

Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations | 2172 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | May 10, 2016 4:00pm to 6:00pm


Ms. Vu Minh Khanh
(Wife of Vietnamese Prisoner of Conscience Nguyen Van Dai – above right)

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