US President Barack Obama landed in Vietnam late on Sunday for a landmark visit capping two decades of rapprochement between the former wartime foes, as both countries look to push trade and check Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Air Force One touched down in Hanoi just after 9.30pm for the beginning of a three-day trip in which Obama will meet Vietnam’s communist leadership and stress improving relations with the dynamic and rapidly emerging nation. Few countries have seen such a dramatic turnaround in their relations since Obama’s Democrat predecessor Bill Clinton normalised relations and later became the first post-war president to visit Vietnam in 2000. The Obama administration now sees the country as a vital plank in America’s much vaunted pivot to the Asia-Pacific region.
Vietnam’s leadership hope to strengthen ties with the world’s most powerful nation, particularly as it chafes with China over disputed waters. Obama will meet the country’s president, its PM and the country’s de facto leader Nguyen Phu Trong, the general secretary of the Communist Party. A major talking point will be the lifting of a US arms embargo, a last vestige of the decade-long war between the two nations, which is vital to helping Vietnam improve coastal defences and bolster its military.