WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 (UPI) —
The United States is partially lifting its decades-old ban on the sale of military weapons to Vietnam amid continuing tensions between Vietnam and China over disputed islands in the South China Sea.
Covered by the move are weapons and weapon platforms that will enhance Vietnam’s maritime security and surveillance capabilities. The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that requests for weaponry would be entertained by Washington on a case-by-case basis.
The partial lifting of the weapons ban comes two years after the United States and Vietnam re-established diplomatic ties and nearly 40 years since troops of the Hanoi government toppled the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam.
Some 50,000 U.S. troops were killed in Vietnam before Washington withdrew military personnel in 1973.
In 2006, Washington approved non-lethal military sales to Vietnam but continued to tie the transfer of weapons to Vietnam’s human rights record.
The U.S. State Department said the lifting of the weapons ban was part of the broader U.S. strategy of helping regional countries strengthen their maritime security, but declined to say whether it was a direct response to a new burst of tension between Beijing and Hanoi. In August, Chinese ships stops and searched Vietnamese fishing boats and seized equipment in the South China Sea. In May, boats of both countries rammed each other near the Paracel Islands.
Each country accused the other of violating their territorial waters.
China is having similar disputes with the Philippines and others claiming sovereignty over reels and atolls in the South China Sea, a vital shipping route that is also believed to be rich in energy resources.
Although avoiding getting involved in the periodic shouting match between China and others over the territorial disputes, Washington has been taking action to show that the United States is still a force to reckoned with in the Asia-Pacific.
U.S. Marines now rotate out of a facility in Australia, Washington has supplied the Philippines with former U.S. Coast Guard cutters and other equipment, and U.S. troops are taking part this month in amphibious exercises in the Philippines close to disputed territory.