Lifting of Vietnam arms ban not aimed at China: Kerry

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh pose for a photo before a signing ceremony at the Government Guesthouse as part of the visit by U.S. President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam May 24, 2016. REUTERS/Kham

HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam (Reuters) - Washington’s decision to lift its ban on the sale of lethal weapons to Vietnam is not aimed at China, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday, describing the move as “very normal” and not provocative.

Kerry, who is accompanying President Barack Obama on a trip to Vietnam, also urged China to peacefully resolve disputes with its neighbours, including Vietnam, in the South China Sea.

“Nothing we are doing here is focused on China,” Kerry told reporters in Ho Chi Minh City, a day after the lifting of a three-decade-old arms embargo on Vietnam.

“That is very normal, not out of order and certainly not inflammatory,” he said, referring to the embargo. “I hope China will read this correctly because our hope is for normal respect for maritime law and for the relationships that are so key in this region.”

Kerry called on China to engage diplomatically with Vietnam and other neighbours to resolve disputes over territorial claims in the South China Sea. China’s island reclamation there has stoked tensions with the United States

“I would caution China, as President Obama and others have, to not unilaterally move to engage in reclamation activities and militarization of islands and areas that are part of the claims that are in contest,” Kerry added, repeating that the United States welcomed the rise of a strong China.

“We’re not saying China is wrong in its claims, we’re simply saying resolve it peacefully, resolve it through a rules-based structure,” said Kerry.

Reporting by Martin Petty, Lesley Wroughton and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Gareth Jones