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Barack Obama on Monday lifted a decades-old arms export embargo for Vietnam during his first visit to the communist country.

The U.S President announced the full removal of the embargo at a news conference, saying the move was intended to step toward normalising relations with the former war enemy and to eliminate a ‘lingering vestige of the Cold War.’

‘At this stage both sides have developed a level of trust and cooperation,’ Obama said, adding that he expected deepening cooperation between the two nation’s militaries.

Obama is seeking to strike this balance with Vietnam amid Chinese efforts to strengthen claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea, one of the world’s most important waterways.

Lifting the arms embargo will be a psychological boost for Vietnam’s leaders as they look to counter an increasingly aggressive China, but there may not be a big jump in sales. Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang thanked Obama for lifting the embargo.

China has praised the lifting of the ban, saying it hopes ‘normal and friendly’ relations between the U.S and Vietnam are conducive to regional stability.

A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry says weapons embargoes are a product of the Cold War and should not have existed.

China itself remains under a weapons embargo imposed by the U.S and European Union following 1989’s bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations centered on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

The lifting of the ban potentially gives Vietnam more opportunity to stand up to China’s ambitions.

President Obama has insisted the decision was not based on relations with China.

He said the U.S will continue to analyze weapons sales case-by-case, but it won’t have a ban based on an ideological division between the two countries.

Speaking at a press conference today, he said: ‘Over the past century, our two nations have known cooperation and then conflict, painful separation, and a long reconciliation.’

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