U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, right, and Vietnamese Chief of General Staff of the Army, Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty, left, review an honor guard before their talks in Hanoi, Vietnam on Thursday. Pic: AP.

It would certainly wake up China. But success and compromise are in Hanoi’s hands, writes Asia Sentinel’s Khanh Vu Duc  

In a recent bipartisan press conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, Republican US Sen. John McCain, joined by Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat, expressed it best when he remarked how a partnership built on shared values is “the closest, strongest, and most enduring friendship two nations can have.”

In the same press conference, McCain announced the possibility of easing its lethal weapons ban, albeit with certain restrictions. It is an idea that has gained traction on and off Capitol Hill, as well as being suggested by Ted Osius, the US nominee for ambassador to Vietnam, during his Senate nomination hearing.

Lifting the weapons ban would signal a drastic shift in US–Vietnam relations, but it could also be perceived as a threat by China and destabilize the region. A much more immediate concern, however, is that any weapons sold to Hanoi would be used against the country’s own people. Given this, as was echoed by McCain, the sale of arms would be limited and dependent on action taken by the government on human rights.

The potential for such an enduring friendship requires shared values. On this front, it would appear the US and Vietnam are at an impasse. With the topic of democratic and human rights reform in Vietnam largely off-limits when the two countries meet, Washington remains hesitant at taking the next step.

This, of course, is not to say the Vietnamese people differ greatly from ordinary Americans. In fact, given that Vietnam is a single-party state under the domineering authority of the Communist Party, one must distinguish between those who rule and those who are forced to follow. Even among party members, influence and power are wielded by the very few.

Vietnamese, by and large, are denied any input regarding their political destiny. Any glimmer of hope that they can contribute productively is nothing more than a cruel trick, as was evidenced during the passage of a recent constitutional amendment that actually strengthens the Communist Party’s grip on power in the face of thousands of responses from ordinary citizens. An opportunity for reform was dashed, and the will of the people was ignored. Again, the party had spoken for the people, deciding for them their place in the State.

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