Obama to discuss maritime "serious tensions" in Vietnam visit: U.S. official

By Vuong Duc Anh, Lam Le   May 10, 2016 | 10:23 am GMT+7
Obama to discuss maritime "serious tensions" in Vietnam visit: U.S. official
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel attends a news conference as part of his visit to Vietnam ahead of the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama later this month, in Hanoi, Vietnam May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

Obama will address serious tensions in South China Sea (Vietnam's East Sea) to ensure rights of all parties and international law are respected and reduce tensions in his first trip to Vietnam this month, said a high-ranking U.S. official.   

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EPA) Daniel R. Russel said Obama will discuss five areas of importance with Vietnam, including expanding security co-operation. "It's important in terms of international peace keeping, regional humanitarian, maritime awareness and security," he said. 

He said U.S has no claim and no desire to acquire any island or any maritime space in South China Sea (Vietnam's East Sea). "We’re not grabbing anything, not taking anything away from someone else. We’re trying to do two things. We’re trying to keep oceans open for anybody and trying to ensure there’s no illusion of international legal rights," Russel said in a media briefing in Hanoi today as part of the lead-up to the anticipated visit by U.S. President Obama. "The exercise by the US Navy of our rights on your international law, the same rights that China has, same that Vietnam has, is a global worldwide policy, a decades long policy. It is in support of an open international system."

"If the world’s most powerful navy cannot sail where international law permits, then what happens to ships, navy of a smaller country? If a warship can't exercise its legitimate rights under international law at sea, what about fishermen and cargo ships? How will they prevent themselves from being locked by a stronger nation? The freedom of navigation operations are not provocative, they’re good global citizenship", he said.

Russel said the U.S. is committed to supporting Vietnam’s ability to implement TPP as a founding member. The U.S. president will have a "significant dialogue with the government of Vietnam on human rights" and deep interest in legal reform. He will also be interested in investing in young people, including the inaguration of Fulbright university in Vietnam, dealing with legacy of war including removing unexplored bombs, returning remains of soldiers and remediating sites contaminated by dioxin.

Russel told VnExpress no decision has been made on the status of U.S. arms ban on Vietnam. "The U.S. partially lifted the ban already in 2014 to allow Vietnam to purchase defense articles to support its ability to defend its own coastline and maritime space. Those defense activities are legitimate expressions of Vietnam sovereignty and the partial lift was in response to and reflection of the growing strategic and defense relationship between Vietnam and the U.S. As we made clear in 2014, we take into consideration the incremental progress that Vietnam is making on important human rights issues in making this decision." 

Obama will also discuss with Vietnamese government on addressing effects of climate change as witnessed by the serious drought that the Mekong countries are experiencing and other global issues like health and infectious diseases as well as challenges of international terrorism.

Obama is scheduled to visit Vietnam at the end of this month, around the G7 meeting in Japan, Russel said. The president will likely meet government leaders, business leaders and representatives of society, particularly with young people. "I know that in a country as famous as Vietnam for its extraordinary culture and food, president Obama will want to get out and see more of this great country," Russel said. 

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