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Chinese State Councilor Yang listens to Vietnamese Communist Party's General Secretary Nguyen during meeting in Hanoi

Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (L) listens to Vietnamese Communist Party's General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (R) during a meeting in Hanoi, June 18, 2014. China's top diplomat scolded Vietnamese officials during talks in Hanoi on Wednesday for "hyping up" a row over a Chinese oil rig drilling in disputed waters in the South China Sea, in tough comments that suggest relations will remain rocky. State Councilor Yang Jiechi also told his hosts that the rig's activities in waters also claimed by Vietnam were "completely legal", China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily briefing in Beijing. REUTERS/Luong Thai Linh/Pool (VIETNAM - Tags: POLITICS)

China and Vietnam at odds over disputed oil rig in the South China Sea

In a decision likely to anger China, the US is partly lifting a 40-year ban on arms sales to former foe Vietnam to help boost defenses in the tense South China Sea.

The historic easing of the ban in place since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 will only apply to maritime equipment, State Department officials stressed, and comes amid warming ties and as Hanoi makes "modest" improvements to human rights.

"What's driving this is not a sudden desire to transfer military equipment to Vietnam writ large, but a specific need in the region," said one official, highlighting what he called Vietnam's lack of capacity in the disputed waters and America's own national security interests.

"It's useful in trying to deal with the territorial disputes in the South China Sea to bolster the capacity of our friends in the region to maintain a maritime presence in some capacity." (AFP)

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