HANOI, Vietnam (AP) — Vietnam on Friday welcomed a decision by the U.S. government to ease a ban on lethal arms sales, saying it will benefit both nations.
The United States announced Thursday it was partially lifting the ban, a move intended to help Vietnam defend itself in the South China Sea, where it is among Asian nations facing an increasingly assertive China.
Vietnamese Foreign Ministry's deputy spokeswoman Tran Thi Bich Van said in a statement that her government welcomes any step that aims to promote Vietnam-U.S. partnership.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters the U.S. will now allow sales of lethal maritime security capabilities and for surveillance on a case-by-case basis.
U.S. officials said it could include both boats and air assets, particularly for Vietnam's coast guard.
The U.S. has not transferred lethal arms to Vietnam since Communists took power at the end of the Vietnam War. A 1984 embargo prohibited arms sales because of concern over the government's human rights record.
U.S. officials now say the easing of the ban recognized steps taken by Hanoi to improve human rights, including the release of 11 prisoners of conscience this year and progress on religious freedom.
Relations between the U.S. and Vietnam were normalized in 1995, some 20 years after the war's end. Washington approved non-lethal arms sales in 2006, and ties have since deepened further, particularly as the Obama administration has sought to expand U.S. engagement in Asia.
Despite fraternal ties between the ruling Communist parties of Vietnam and China, tensions spiked this year after China deployed a deep-sea oil rig near the disputed Paracel Islands, which Beijing occupied from Vietnam in 1974. Vessels from the two sides repeatedly rammed each other near the rig. The standoff triggered deadly anti-China riots in several industrial parks in Vietnam.