The US is fully lifting its embargo on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam, its one-time enemy, President Barack Obama has announced.
Speaking during a visit to Vietnam and talks with its leaders, President Barack Obama said the move removed a “lingering vestige of the Cold War”.
The US is trying to bolster its relationship with its Pacific allies, as China asserts territorial claims.
However, Barack Obama said the embargo decision was not related to US policy on China.
“It’s based on our desire to complete what has been a lengthy process of moving towards normalization with Vietnam,” the president said in Hanoi.
Vietnam is one of several countries in the region involved in maritime disputes with China. The US insists on the right to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
In 2014, a row over a Chinese oil rig near the Paracel islands led to clashes between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels and anti-China riots in Vietnam.
According to White House officials, the arms ban, in force since 1984, would be lifted only if human rights in Vietnam improved.
Barack Obama said after talks with President Tran Dai Quang: “Sales will need to still meet strict requirements, including those related to human rights, but this change will ensure that Vietnam has access to the equipment it needs to defend itself.”
Vietnam had been arguing for an end to the embargo, which was partially lifted in 2014.
Barack Obama’s visit comes 41 years after the end of the Vietnam War in which the US sought to prevent a communist takeover of South Vietnam.
Several million Vietnamese – civilians, communist fighters and South Vietnamese soldiers – were killed, as well as more than 58,000 US soldiers.
By the end of the war in 1975, the communists had gained control of the entire country.
While in Vietnam, Barack Obama is expected to meet dissidents and make the case for Vietnam to remove obstacles to the US-led Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal.
Barack Obama flies later to Japan for a summit of the G7 industrialized nations. His visit will include a tour of Hiroshima, where the world’s first nuclear attack was carried out in 1945 by the US, killing at least 140,000 people.
China is accused by Vietnam of violating its sovereignty by landing a plane on an artificial island built in a contested part of the South China Sea.
According to the Vietnamese foreign ministry, the airfield was built illegally on a part of the Spratly archipelago that lies within its territory.
China said it has complete sovereignty over Fiery Cross Reef and had used a civilian plane to test the airstrip.
Several nations dispute China’s territorial claims in the area.
China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, resulting in overlapping claims with several other Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines.
They accuse China of illegally reclaiming land in contested areas to create artificial islands with facilities that could potentially be for military use.
The US has said it was concerned that January 3 flight had exacerbated tensions.
Pooja Jhunjhunwala, a spokeswoman for the US State Department, said there was “a pressing need for claimants to publicly commit to a reciprocal halt to further land reclamation, construction of new facilities, and militarization of disputed features”.
“We encourage all claimants to actively reduce tensions from unilateral actions that undermine regional stability, and taking steps to create space for meaningful diplomatic solutions to emerge,” Pooja Jhunjhunwala said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China conducted the flight to test whether the airfield facilities met the standards for civil aviation.
“China has indisputable sovereignty over the Nansha Islands and their adjacent waters. China will not accept the unfounded accusation from the Vietnamese side,” Hua Chunying said, referring to the Spratly Islands by their Chinese name.
Hanoi’s foreign ministry said Vietnam handed a protest note to China’s embassy and asked China not to repeat the action, Reuters reported.
It called the flight “a serious infringement of the sovereignty of Vietnam on the Spratly archipelago”.
Satellite images published in April 2015 showed China making progress with building the airstrip on reclaimed land on Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratly Islands.
The landmass could accommodate a runway about 3,000m long.
It also showed dredging to the south of the reef, in apparent work to improve the reef’s port facilities.
China says its work is legal and needed to safeguard its sovereignty.
One Chinese worker is dead and at least 90 other people injured after protesters attacked a steel mill in Vietnam, amid anti-China tensions over the South China Sea dispute.
The incident took place at a Taiwanese-owned mill in Ha Tinh province.
It came a day after protesters burnt several foreign-owned factories at an industrial park.
The demonstrations have been sparked by China’s movement of a drilling rig into waters also claimed by Vietnam.
Nationalist sentiment in Vietnam is currently running very high over the South China Sea dispute (photo AFP/Getty Images)
Several anti-China protests have since taken place in Vietnam. Nationalist sentiment is currently running very high over the issue, correspondents say.
Protesters appear to have targeted businesses with Chinese characters in their signs, even if they are from other countries such as Taiwan.
The Chinese embassy in Vietnam on Thursday urged Chinese nationals to take precautions, in the second such statement in as many days.
“We once again remind all Chinese in Vietnam to take safety precautions, increase self-protection, and avoid leaving home unnecessarily,” said the statement posted on the embassy’s website.
It said that “Chinese businesses and workers have been the targets of violence” in at least seven cities or provinces across Vietnam. The embassy said it had asked Vietnamese authorities to ensure the safety of Chinese citizens.
On Tuesday, at least 15 foreign-owned factories were set on fire at industrial parks in Binh Duong province, and hundreds more attacked. No casualties were reported.
Some Taiwanese have begun leaving the country.
The latest incident happened overnight at a huge steel plant owned by Formosa Plastics Group.
Taiwan’s envoy in Vietnam said one Chinese worker was killed and 90 other people injured.
A local police official also confirmed this account.
“One Chinese worker is dead. We are trying to identify the body,” he told AFP news agency.
In a statement quoted by Reuters news agency, the company said its Vietnamese and Taiwanese workers were not attacked.
Taiwan’s envoy told AFP news agency that rioters forced Chinese workers into a corner of the factory. “The rioters have gone but we are all still concerned they might come back,” he said.
Doctors at Ha Tinh General Hospital told agencies several Chinese patients were being treated for injuries.
On Wednesday, Vietnamese authorities said at least 200 people had been arrested over the violence at the industrial park in Binh Duong.
China’s tourism body has urged its nationals to “carefully consider” any travel to Vietnam.
China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig was brought into waters west of the disputed Paracel Islands earlier this month, leading to collisions between Vietnamese and Chinese ships as Vietnam sought to block the move.
China claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea, including several areas that its South East Asian neighbors say belong to them.
In recent years it has started to enforce these claims more assertively, leading to severely strained ties with the Philippines and Vietnam in particular.
The Philippines is currently taking China to a UN court to try to resolve the issue.
Anti-China protesters have set on fire several factories at an industrial park in southern Vietnam, amid tensions over the South China Sea.
The park’s management said three factories were set on fire on Tuesday, but other reports put the figure as high as 15.
No casualties have been reported but officials said many arrests were made.
Anti-China protesters have set on fire several factories at Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (photo Reuters)
The protests came after China moved a drilling rig into waters claimed by Vietnam earlier this month.
In a daily press briefing, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Vietnam was a “provocateur” and that Beijing had expressed concern to Hanoi.
The management of the Vietnam Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) said that protestors gathered on Monday in Thuan An town, in the southern Binh Duong province.
On Tuesday they moved on to VSIP’s two industrial parks nearby and targeted factories owned or managed by the Chinese and Chinese expatriates.
Not all of the tenants of the three factories were Chinese companies. Some Taiwanese companies had been affected.
Other reports suggested the violence was more widespread, with more factories targeted.
A local official estimated that around 19,000 workers took part in the protest and that at least 15 factories were set on fire, according to local media.
One photo carried by Vietnamese media showed a factory had draped a South Korean flag at its entrance in a bid to stave off attacks.
Another eight were partially damaged, and had shattered windows and smashed front gates. These included buildings belonging to a Taiwan-founded shoe company.
The protest has spooked some foreign companies. Reuters reported that Hong Kong-listed sports shoe maker Yue Yuen, which supplies footwear to Adidas, Nike and other international brands, had suspended production in Vietnam.
Earlier this month, China moved its Haiyang Shiyou 981 oil rig to a spot 120 nautical miles off the coast of Vietnam.
The area is near the Paracel Islands, over which China and Vietnam have contesting claims.
The move sparked bitter protest from the Vietnamese government, which demanded an immediate pull-out.
Last week, several collisions were reported between ships from the two countries as Vietnam sought to block the installation of the rig.
Ships have also been exchanging water cannon fire and dozens of vessels are reported to be in the area.
Protests have been staged in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City over the past week. Vietnamese activists marched to the Chinese embassy in Hanoi on Sunday and again on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the US warned China that its actions were “provocative”.
Beijing claims a U-shaped swathe of the South China Sea that covers areas other South East Asian nations say are their territory.
The issue has been rumbling in recent years amid an increasingly assertive stance from China over its claims.
The Philippines on Wednesday accused China of reclaiming land on a disputed South China Sea reef in order to build a new facility – possibly an airstrip or a military base.
Manila lodged a protest last month after images taken from the air showed China had been moving materials into Johnson Reef in the Spratly Islands, officials said.
Ties between Beijing and Manila have deteriorated severely in recent months because of the territorial row.
Manila is taking Beijing to an international court over the issue. It also recently signed a security deal with the US allowing more troops onto its soil, in a move seen as reflecting the difficult ties with China.
According to new reports, Vietnamese navy planes have spotted possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared almost two days ago.
Officials said it was too dark to be certain the objects were from Flight MH370, which had 239 people on board.
A multinational team is searching for wreckage and ships will try to confirm the find after dawn.
Investigators are also checking CCTV footage of two passengers who were travelling on stolen passports.
Malaysian military officials said on Sunday that the plane may have turned back from its scheduled route shortly before vanishing from radar screens, further deepening the mystery surrounding its fate.
Relatives of the missing passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight have been told to prepare for the worst
Relatives of the missing passengers have been told to prepare for the worst.
Flight MH730 left Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing, at 00:41 local time on Saturday. But radio contact was lost at 01:30, somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Late on Sunday, the Vietnamese authorities said possible debris from the plane had been spotted in the sea off south Vietnam.
“We received information from a Vietnamese plane saying that they found two broken objects, which seem like those of an aircraft, located about 50 miles to the south-west of Tho Chu Island,” an unnamed official from the National Committee for Search and Rescue told AFP news agency.
“As it is night they cannot fish them out for proper identification. They have located the position of the areas and flown back to the land,” he added.
The potential debris was in a similar area to a possible oil slick seen by Vietnamese navy planes on Saturday, but officials have cautioned that this too may be nothing to do with the disappearance of Flight MH370.
There are now 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine different nations taking part in the search for the missing plane in the seas off Vietnam and Malaysia.
South-East Asian states have joined forces to search the South China Sea for the Malaysia Airlines jet missing with 239 people on board.
Flight MH370 vanished at 02:40 local time Saturday after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
The aerial search has been halted for the night but sea operations continue.
No wreckage has been reported by the airline, but Vietnamese planes reported seeing oil slicks in the sea.
The Vietnamese government said two slicks, about 9 miles long, were consistent with those that could be left by an airliner and had been detected off southern Vietnam.
However, there is no confirmation the slicks relate to the missing plane.
Distraught relatives and loved ones of those aboard are being given assistance at the airports.
Distraught relatives and loved ones of those on board of Malaysia Airlines jet are being given assistance at the airports
“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane,” Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.
The plane reportedly went off the radar south of Vietnam.
Its last known location was off the Ca Mau peninsula although the exact position was not clear.
The Boeing B777-200 aircraft was carrying 227 passengers, including two children, and 12 crew members.
Malaysia’s military said a second wave of helicopters and ships had been dispatched after an initial search revealed nothing. The US has agreed to help with its aircraft too, Malaysian PM Najb Razak said.
Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were set aside temporarily as China dispatched two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three air force planes and three navy patrol ships.
Singapore is also involved, while Vietnam sent aircraft and ships and asked fishermen in the area to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.
“In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues,” said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military’s Western Command.
The passengers were of 14 different nationalities. Among them were 152 Chinese nationals, 38 Malaysians, 12 people from Indonesia and six from Australia.
The pilot was Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981.
A Malaysia Airlines plane vanished on a flight to Beijing, with 239 people on board.
The search is under way in waters between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that flight MH370 had disappeared at 02:40 local time on Saturday after leaving Kuala Lumpur.
It had been expected to land in Beijing at 06:30.
Malaysia’s transport minister said there was no information on wreckage and he urged against speculation.
“We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane. We are doing everything we can to ensure every possible angle has been addressed,” Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
“Our hope is that the people understand we are being as transparent as we can, we are giving information as quickly as we can, but we want to make sure information has been verified.”
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the focus was on helping the families of those missing. He said that 80% of the families had been contacted.
The plane went off the radar south of Vietnam, according to a statement on the Vietnamese government website.
Its last known location was off the country’s Ca Mau peninsula although the exact position was not clear, it said.
Malaysia Airlines plane vanished on a flight to Beijing, with 239 people on board
The Boeing B777-200 aircraft was carrying 227 passengers, including two children, and 12 crew members.
A plane, two helicopters and four vessels have been dispatched by Malaysia to search the seas off its east coast in the South China Sea, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Vietnam also launched a search while the Philippines said it was sending three navy patrol boats and a surveillance plane, AFP adds, and China sent two ships.
The passengers were of 14 different nationalities, Jauhari Yahya said.
The pilot was Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981, Jauhari Yahya said.
Friends and relatives expecting to meet passengers from the flight in Beijing were instructed to go to a nearby hotel where officials were meant to be on hand to provide support.
The Associated Press reported a woman weeping on a shuttle bus who was heard to say on a mobile phone: “They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good.”
The plane had been flying at an altitude of 35,000ft and the pilots had not reported any problems with the aircraft, Fuad Sharuji, Malaysian Airlines’ vice-president of operations control, told CNN.
Malaysia’s national carrier is one of Asia’s largest, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.
The route between Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has become more and more popular as Malaysia and China increase trade.
The Boeing 777 had not had a fatal crash in its 20-year history until an Asiana plane came down at San Francisco airport in July of last year. Three teenage girls from China died in that incident.
Boeing said in a statement posted on Twitter: “We’re closely monitoring reports on Malaysia flight MH370. Our thoughts are with everyone on board.”
Flight MH370 passengers
153 Chinese including one child
4 Americans including one child
Two each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada
One each from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Netherlands and Austria
Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats in disputed waters in the South China Sea, setting it alight.
Vietnamese foreign ministry said the “very serious incident” took place on March 20 near the Paracel islands.
Its statement did not specify what kind of Chinese vessel was involved.
Vietnam and China both claim the Paracel islands, which have been controlled by China since a short war with South Vietnam in 1974.
“Vietnam strongly protests, urging China to investigate and seriously deal with the wrongful and inhumane act, and compensate Vietnamese fishermen for their loss,” foreign ministry spokesman Luong Thanh Nghi said.
Vietnam has accused a Chinese vessel of firing on one of its fishing boats in disputed waters in the South China Sea, setting it alight
A formal complaint had been lodged with the Chinese embassy in Hanoi, the statement released late on Monday said.
Earlier this month, two Vietnamese fishing boats were chased out of disputed waters by Chinese marine surveillance ships, local reports said. Vietnamese officials have also reported increased patrolling by China in recent months.
But the use of firearms, if confirmed, points to a more forceful approach from Beijing in protecting what it calls China’s sovereign waters.
There has so far been no comment from Beijing on the issue.
In recent years tensions over territorial claims have been rising in the South China Sea, amid a more assertive stance from China.
China claims a U-shaped swathe of the sea that extends well into what UNCLOS (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) recognizes as the 200-mile-from-shore Exclusive Economic Zones of other claimants.
As well as Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan have overlapping claims with China.
Last year, the Philippines and China engaged in a lengthy stand-off over another disputed area, the Scarborough shoal, in a spat that left diplomatic ties very strained.
Both the Philippines and Vietnam have sought to raise the issue through the ASEAN regional bloc, but claim Chinese pressure has forced the topic off the agenda.
Depositors in Vietnam have withdrawn hundreds of millions of dollars from Asia Commercial Bank, one of the country’s largest banks, after the arrest of tycoon Nguyen Duc Kien, one of its founders.
Nguyen Duc Kien, one of Vietnam’s richest businessmen, was arrested in Hanoi on Monday on suspicion of “economic violations”.
Shares in Asia Commercial Bank (ACB) slid as a result, causing depositors to panic.
The Central Bank has pumped millions into the bank to reassure depositors.
Large crowds of customers have gathered outside branches of ACB in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Depositors in Vietnam have withdrawn hundreds of millions of dollars from Asia Commercial Bank after the arrest of tycoon Nguyen Duc Kien
The government has said that Nguyen Duc Kien, who owns just under a 5% stake in ACB, is not involved in the day-to-day running of the bank.
Nguyen Duc Kien, whose family is the fifth richest in Vietnam, co-founded ACB in the 1990s. He is seen as a politically well-connected tycoon.
The allegations against him concern other investment companies that he owns, but there is also concern about the whereabouts of ACB’s chief executive officer Ly Xuan Hai.
Some reports say it is widely believed that Ly Xuan Hai is also under arrest or may have resigned.
Ly Xuan Hai’s deputy, Do Minh Toan, has been quoted as telling state media that depositors withdrew about 5 trillion dong ($240 million) from ACB on Wednesday.
The bank run has also put pressure on the dong and has led to an increase in the price of gold – traditionally seen as a safe-haven investment at times of economic instability.
Since Wednesday the Central Bank has injected 17 trillion dong into Vietnam’s commercial banking sector in an effort to mollify depositors and the market.
Nguyen Duc Kien’s sudden arrest has prompted speculation about a power struggle in communist-run Vietnam, and a suspected plot to curb the power of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, to whom Kien has close ties.
ACB faced a run on its deposits in 2003 after rumors, which were later proved false, spread about the arrest of one of its executives at the time.
Nguyen Duc Kien is also a shareholder in other commercial banks, including Kien Long Commercial Joint Stock Bank and the Vietnam Export-Import Commercial Joint Stock Bank
He has also invested heavily in Vietnam’s professional football league.
Typhoon Kai-Tak has killed at least 27 people as it swept across northern provinces of Vietnam over the weekend, officials have said.
Typhoon Kai-Tak made landfall on Friday, bringing intense rain and strong winds.
Nearly 12,000 houses were damaged and 56,800 acres (23,000 hectares) of cropland were flooded, officials said.
Some of those who died were carried away by floodwaters, one died in a flood-triggered landslide.
Typhoon Kai-Tak has killed at least 27 people as it swept across northern provinces of Vietnam over the weekend
In the capital, Hanoi, where some 200 large trees were uprooted, one taxi driver was killed when a tree fell on his car.
In Bac Giang province a 46-year-old woman died after a hill near her house collapsed in the middle of the night.
On Sunday, parts of Hanoi remained flooded and residents complained that flash floods still posed a risk despite insistence from the authorities that drainage in the capital had been improved.
The Vietnamese army had prepared 20,000 soldiers, along with helicopters, rescue boats and canoes for rescue operations, but only a small number were actually deployed, reports Agence France Presse news agency.
China’s Xinhua news agency said that the typhoon had also left two dead and two others missing as it passed across parts of southern China on Friday, destroying some 4,200 homes in Guangdong province.
The United States has begun a project to help clean up Agent Orange contamination at one area in Vietnam – the first such move since the war ended in 1975.
The work is taking place at the airport in the central city of Danang.
The US sprayed millions of gallons of the toxic defoliant over jungle areas to destroy enemy cover.
Vietnam says several million people have been affected by Agent Orange, including 150,000 children born with severe birth defects.
On Thursday, a ceremony was held at the Danang airport where the defoliant was stored before being sprayed over forests hiding fighters from the Viet Cong, guerrillas backed by the Communist government of North Vietnam.
The US has begun a project to help clean up Agent Orange contamination in Vietnam after 37 years since the war ended
The US government is providing $41 million to the clean-up project, which is being carried out by two American companies in co-operation with the Vietnamese defence ministry.
The US has in the past helped fund some social services in Vietnam, but this is its first direct involvement in clean-up work.
The contaminated soil and sediment is to be excavated and then heated to a high temperature to destroy the dioxins, a US embassy statement said.
Frank Donovan of USAID told Radio Australia the project would last until 2016.
“We expect it will be cleaned up to rid the contaminated areas of dioxins down to harmless levels that are accepted both by the government of the US and the government of Vietnam, and so safe for industrial, commercial or residential use,” he said.
There are dozens of other contamination hotspots where the defoliant was stored, including two more airports.
The US and Vietnam resumed full diplomatic ties in 1995 and have grown closer in recent years amid concerns over China’s assertiveness over disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The US compensates its veterans exposed to the defoliant, but does not compensate Vietnamese nationals. A lawsuit brought by a group of Vietnamese nationals against US manufacturers was dismissed in 2007.
For many Vietnamese Agent Orange is a matter of justice undone and a very bitter legacy of the war. Most Vietnamese still think the US should do more to help.
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