Are the US and Vietnam ganging up to contain the rise of China? Beijing, which is upset by the much-publicized visit of US President Barack Obama to Hanoi, certainly thinks so.
Against the backdrop of escalation of geopolitical tensions in the Asia-Pacific, China has warned Mr Obama not to spark a fire in the region after he announced the lifting of embargo on arms sales to Vietnam.
Unveiling the historic step on May 23 during his first visit to Vietnam, Mr Obama insisted that the move was not based on China, but acknowledged that both US and Vietnam shared concerns about China’s actions in the South China Sea. Not surprisingly, Beijing expressed its strong displeasure.
China enjoys a complex relationship with its southern neighbour. The two countries are now contesting sovereignty over many small islands in the South China Sea. Criticising the move made by the two countries, the influential China Daily said: “The US and Vietnam must not spark a regional tinderbox. In an editorial, the daily said that Obama’s move was meant to “curb the rise of China.” “This, if true, bodes ill for regional peace and stability,” it argued.
The US accuses China of militarising the South China Sea by turning contested reefs and rocks into military bases. Beijing, however, claims that it is only asserting its “indisputable” sovereignty over the islands and blames the United States for interfering, by encouraging rival claimants to antagonize China.
It was unlikely that Vietnam, whose weapons systems are largely Russian-made would import significant quantities of US arms for the moment.
South China Sea dispute
During the visit Mr Obama had also emphasised on a peaceful resolution to the South China Sea dispute. “In the South China Sea, the US is not a claimant in current disputes, but we will stand with our partners in upholding key principles like freedom of navigation,” Mr Obama said.
(Sridhar Ramaswamy contributed inputs for this article)
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