WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Freeman, a leading US expert on China and Asian security and diplomacy for more than 40 years, predicted that any US efforts to link arms sales to concessions from the Hanoi government on human rights issues would also reduce Vietnam’s demand for American weapons.
"I see this as a symbolically important gesture and one likely to have little practical impact," Freeman stated. "US weapons are relatively expensive. Vietnam is still a relatively poor country."
Vietnam had relied on Russian weaponry for almost all its history as an independent nation and mixing in very different US systems would add complexity and confusion to the forces operating them, Freeman noted.
"Vietnam is equipped almost entirely with Russian weapons. It does not make sense to dilute this highly desirable uniformity of equipment by adding complexity to spare parts and maintenance requirements," he said.
"Any sale is going to be accompanied by a loud airing of concerns about Vietnam's human rights practices in the US Congress. I don't think much will be sold," he observed.
The motive for Obama’s move was clearly to encourage Vietnam to take a more confrontational stand against China in disputes in the region, Freeman maintained.
"This is clearly a gesture of solidarity with Vietnam against China. So the United States is back to the old game of attempting to block Chinese influence in Southeast Asia and using Vietnam to check alleged Chinese ambitions."
However, Freeman also suggested that Hanoi was unlikely to provoke any major confrontations with Beijing, despite growing support from Washington.
"I have great confidence that Vietnam, like other Southeast Asian countries, intends to be cautious in aligning itself against China or with the United States."
China should not over-react to Obama’s lifting of the arms embargo and Vietnamese policymakers should not anticipate too much coming out of it either, Freeman cautioned.
"I think this gesture, while appropriate, should not cause either alarm in Beijing or jubilation among the Vietnamese. And US arms manufacturers should avoid unrealistic expectations of major sales to Hanoi," Freeman concluded.
In response to scrapping the arms embargo, the Vietnamese government has signed a deal to purchase 100 Boeing commercial jets, worth about $11.3 billion. The two countries appear to be heading toward a full normalization of relations, providing the West another foothold in Beijing’s neighborhood.