08 October, 2014
Last week, the United States announced it would partly end its 30-year-long ban on the sale of lethal, or deadly, weapons to Vietnam. Some observers think it is an important step toward improving relations between the two former enemies. But some human rights activists are unhappy about the decision.
In announcing the lifting of the ban, the U.S. State Department said the decision to do so was not an anti-China move. Earlier this year, China moved an oil drilling structure, or rig, into waters also claimed by Vietnam. It caused extreme tension between the two countries.
Ian Storey is with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore. He says the oil rig crisis led the U.S. to end the ban sooner than it would have had the crisis not happened.
"It underscores America's increasing concern about recent developments in the South China Sea and in particular how Chinese assertiveness is seen as potentially undermining U.S. interests in the region."
Mr. Storey says the decision to permit U.S. sales of deadly weapons to Vietnam is not very important. He says Vietnam for many years has had an agreement with Russia to buy much less-costly military equipment. Some observers believe Vietnam wants to buy the American P3 Orion aircraft used to patrol ocean waters.
Vietnam has been trying to persuade the U.S. to end the ban for several years. The United States said it first wanted Vietnam to improve its record on human rights. Mr. Storey says there has been some improvement, but not much.
"So they've got around this issue partly by saying, ‘Well Vietnam has improved its human rights situation,' although it's, I mean, it's not a vast improvement on what it was. But second they've said that ‘We'll provide non-lethal equipment to Vietnam to improve its maritime domain awareness.' So, we're not talking about submarines or war ships or, you know, that kind of equipment, but equipment that would enable Vietnam to improve its maritime surveillance capabilities."
John Sifton is the Asia Advocacy Director for the group Human Rights Watch. He wrote about the decision to end the ban in Foreign Policy magazine. The decision, in his words, "undercuts the brave work of Vietnamese activists." He says they want the U.S. to pressure Vietnam to improve its human rights record.
Le Quoc Quan is one of Vietnam's best-known activists. Vietnam's government detained him last year on charges of not paying taxes. Critics say the charges are false. Le Quoc Quyet is his brother.
"I think U.S. is concerned about human rights in Vietnam, but it's not a pre-condition (for the lifting of the ban). They have to be concerned (with) many other issues as well as human rights."
The U.S. State Department says Vietnam still needs to improve its human rights record. And it says the U.S. continues to examine its security relationship with Vietnam.
Nguyen Tri Dung is the son of Dieu Cay, who has criticized the Vietnamese government on blog posts. Dieu Cay is serving a 12-year prison sentence for his posts. Nguyen Tri Dung said officials from the U.S. Embassy visited his father for the first time last week. Until then, Dieu Cay had only been permitted to meet with family members. Nguyen Tri Dung believes the visit showed that Vietnam is considering releasing his father. And he says he knows why.
"If my father is released it must be something to do with it, about deal, because I know them for a long time, Vietnamese government. They will not do anything without profit."
Dieu Cay's family members want him released. But, Nguyen Tri Dung says the United States should not sell deadly weapons to Vietnam while its human rights record is poor.
"We need to have more critical move like to remove the Article 88 about propaganda against the nation, or remove the Article 79 about people who took action against the nation, or the Article number 258 that forbids people to talk on Facebook or (the) Internet about the nation. (With) these articles it's really agreed the government can catch anyone they want without no reason at all."
He says he thinks if his father is freed he will not be permitted to stay in Vietnam. He believes his father will probably be permitted to move to the United States.
I'm Christopher Cruise.
Correspondent Marianne Brown reported this story from Hanoi. Christopher Cruise wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
lethal – adj. causing or able to cause death
tension – n. a state in which people, groups, countries, etc., disagree with and feel anger toward each other
patrol – v. the act of walking or going around or through an area in order to make sure that it is safe; the act of patrolling an area
persuade – v. to cause (someone) to do something by asking, arguing, or giving reasons
taxes – n. an amount of money that a government requires people to pay according to their income, the value of their property, etc., and that is used to pay for the things done by the government
embassy – n. the building where an ambassador lives and works
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