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US President Barack Obama starts three-day visit to Vietnam

US President Barack Obama has arrived in Hanoi for a three-day visit to boost relations with the South Asian nation. There is speculation he may announce the lifting of a controversial arms embargo against Vietnam.

President Obama arrived in Hanoi late Sunday at the start of the three-day stay in Vietnam to make a case for stronger commercial and security ties. He is also expected to raise human rights concerns.

Obama's weeklong Asia trip, which also includes a stop in Japan for the G7 summit, is being seen as part of a strategic attempt to temper growing Chinese power in the region. Beijing has found itself in an increasingly tense standoff with Hanoi and several other neighbors over military presence and land reclamation projects in the South China Sea.

The president's visit is being seen as an opportunity to develop future ties with Vietnam, and to move away from the legacy of two wars - World War 2 and the Vietnam War.

Four decades after the fall of Saigon, and two decades after President Bill Clinton restored diplomatic relations, Obama is looking to upgrade relations with an emerging power. The country's expanding middle class is also seen as a promising market for US goods.

Obama is expected to call for approval of the 12-nation, trans-Pacific trade agreement that is currently held up in the US Congress.

Arms embargo and human rights

Vietnam is hoping that the partial embargo on the sale of US arms will be lifted. While it is being considered, there are ongoing concerns about Vietnam's human rights record.

Obama is expected to press the government on its less than stellar human rights record. Obama was also scheduled to meet dissidents in a country that Human Rights Watch has labeled one of the world's most repressive towards political opposition.

Just hours before Obama's visit, the country voted Sunday in once-every-five-year elections for a rubber-stamp parliament whose membership has already been largely determined by the ruling Communist Party.

es/jm (AP, Reuters)

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