But at a time of increased tension in the South China Sea, where Vietnam is among the countries disputing territory with China, America’s policies there are bound to be seen in a different context. The headline in Global Times, a fire-breathing Chinese tabloid, read simply: “Washington uses past foe to counter China”.
The American president made his announcement a few hours into his first state visit to Vietnam, following a meeting with the country’s new president, Tran Dai Quang, in Hanoi. Official enthusiasm was mirrored in the thick crowds lining the streets in the capital and in Ho Chi Minh City to greet Obama, whose visit between May 23rd and 25th was only the third by an American leader since the end of the Vietnam war in 1975. His star power contrasted with the indifference most Vietnamese show for the stiff apparatchiks of the ruling Communist Party. Locals in Hanoi gawped at Mr Obama tucking into bun cha, a cheap meal of grilled pork and rice noodles bought from a street stall.