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Vietnam’s U.S. Arms Wishlist Hinges on Human Rights, McCain Says

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Jan. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Vietnam’s request for a “long laundry list” of U.S. weaponry including anti-aircraft systems will be denied until it makes progress on human rights, according to Senators Joseph Lieberman and John McCain.

“There are certain weapons systems that the Vietnamese would like to buy from us or receive from us, and we’d like to be able to transfer those systems to them,” Lieberman told reporters in Bangkok today. “But it’s not going to happen unless they improve their human rights record.”

Removing a U.S. ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam under a 1984 arms embargo would boost military links between the former adversaries amid escalating spats with China in the South China Sea. Vietnam said last year it’s weighing whether to host a U.S. Navy medical center.

A rising China “is certainly on the minds of the leaders in the Philippines and Vietnam,” Lieberman said. “America has a concern about the Chinese claims regarding the South China Sea, particularly with regards to freedom of navigation.”

Last year, Vietnam convicted 33 bloggers and rights activists of crimes for expressing political and religious beliefs, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Jan. 11. Authorities arrested at least 27 other activists and held two in detention for more than a year without trial, it said.

Vietnam “had a long laundry list” of defense items it desired, McCain said, adding that it included anti-aircraft systems and radar. “We didn’t get into specifics because we made it clear there would have to be progress.”

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Kelly Ayotte are joining McCain and Lieberman on a trip to Southeast Asia this week that includes visits to the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Ten Kate in Bangkok at dtenkate@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Jordan at tjordan3@bloomberg.net

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