Barack Obama today announced that the US is "fully lifting" its half-century embargo on arms sales to Vietnam, a move that will allow the country to bolster its defences at a time of tense territorial disputes with China.
The decision, which was made after weighing up the nation's human rights record against its need to defend itself, opens the way for Vietnam to import US defence technology, including maritime capabilities and hardware.
Tensions have heightened in the region over the last few months after China began reclaiming land in massive dredging operations. CNN has footage of newly created islands equipped with airfields, ports and lighthouses.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Speaking at a joint press conference in Hanoi, Obama stressed the importance of maintaining freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, adding that there was a genuine mutual concern with respect to maritime issues.
His Vietnamese counterpart, Tran Dai Quang, welcomed the decision and said it was proof that both countries had normalised relations.
However, human rights campaigners have denounced the decision, insisting that Vietnam should release prisoners of conscience and improve democratic rights before receiving such a reward. Vietnam holds about 100 political prisoners and there have been more detentions this year.
The lifting of the embargo will effectively put to bed all the lingering issues from the Vietnam War, said the BBC's Jonathan Head in Hanoi.
The US partially lifted the band in 2014 and Vietnam has not bought anything since, but removing the remaining restrictions opens the way to deeper security cooperation.
Obama's visit comes 41 years since the end of the Vietnam War, in which the US sought to prevent a communist takeover of the south of the country.
"You could not have a more contested, controversial, costly, tragic war than the Vietnam War, and now [Vietnam] is becoming a partner of the United States, an important partner," said deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes in The Times.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.