Obama's Vietnam visit: Human rights, arms embargo and China strategy in play

The US has long said any move to ease the embargo further will depend on Hanoi's progress in human rights.

Vietnam said on Thursday it will welcome any US move to accelerate the process to lift the lethal arms embargo enforced on it decades ago.

The comments were made in response to questions fielded by Reuters news agency ahead of US President Barack Obama's scheduled visit to the communist country next week.

The Vietnamese offering ministry statement said the lifting of the arms embargo will further boost trust between the US and Vietnam.

"We welcome the United States' acceleration to fully lift the lethal arms sales ban on Vietnam," the ministry said.

"This is consistent with the development trend of the comprehensive partnership ... demonstrating trust between the two countries."

Obama's visit to Vietnam, where the US fought a long and bloody war during the height of the Cold War, raised speculation about lifting the arms embargo which would help Hanoi import advanced weapons.

However, the US has long held the position that any move to ease the embargo further will depend on the progress Hanoi makes on the human rights front.

Vietnam and the US share a common pedestal vis-a-vis China's aggressive posturing in the South China Sea. Vietnam harbours deep hostility towards China after Beijing took control over the Spratlys island chain and the subsequent maritime clashes.

The Obama administration had partially lifted the arms embargo on Vietnam in 2014, a move that angered China, which said the US move upset the balance of power in the region.

The incoming Obama visit has put the total lifting of embargo in play, though sections within the administration argue that full removal of rustications should be considered only after Vietnam addresses the US concerns over human rights violations in the country.

The Asia pivot strategy Obama initiated proposes bolstering of US allies and partners in the region.

Apart from a human rights commitment from Vietnam, the prospects for US companies in a post-embargo Vietnam will also be a key factor.

Daniel Russel, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific, who was in Vietnam ahead of the president's visit ,said the lifting of the embargo undergoes periodic review and the matter will be looked at closely during Obama's visit.

"One of the important factors that would make a lift of the ban possible would be to continue forward momentum in meeting universal human rights standards and progress in important legal reform," Russel said.

Meanwhile, executives of major US arms makers Boeing and Lockheed Martin were in Hanoi to hold discussions ahead of Obama's visit, raising speculations that easing the lethal arms embargo was on the cards.

Vietnam is one of the top arms importers in the world and its weapons purchases recorded several fold growth in the last decade as South China Sea tensions worsened.

Currently Russia is Vietnam's major arms supplier.