In Vietnam, Obama Issues Tepid Response To South China Sea Violations

Barack Obama winks as he arrives for a news conference with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, Monday, May 23, 2016, at the International Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama continued his administration’s tepid response to China’s multiple violations and incursions in the South China Sea during a press conference in Vietnam today.

“I reiterated that the United States will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, and we will support the right of all countries to do the same,” Obama said, echoing the usual talking points from his administration for the past several months.

Obama said he discussed “tangible steps” in the South China Sea with Vietnam’s leaders to halt “construction and militarization” but did not specifically challenge China’s actions.

The president did announce a decision by the United States to lift the arms embargo on Vietnam — widely seen as a reaction to China’s military aggression in the region.

Chinese state media called the arms embargo “a product of the Cold War” and signaled support for Obama’s actions to end it, while a Global Times editorial called it “a very poor lie” to antagonize Bejing.

Obama suggested that conflicts in international waters should be “resolved peacefully” through the United Nations.

“Freedom of navigation must be upheld and lawful commerce should not be impeded,” he said.

Last week, the Pentagon revealed that two Chinese Shenyang J-11 fighter jets intercepted an American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea in international airspace. The Chinese jets came within 50 feet of the plane during the incident.