Martin Dempsey's Vietnam visit
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey (L) poses for a photo with his Vietnamese counterpart General Do Ba Ty after a welcoming ceremony at Vietnam's Defence Ministry in Hanoi on Aug. 14, 2014. Reuters/Kham

U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who visited Vietnam Thursday to strengthen military ties between the two countries, is the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit the Asian nation since 1971. Dempsey is on a four-day visit to the country.

Both countries have decided to work together on improving military cooperation, by focusing on maritime security and training, and the U.S. has reportedly indicated that it may remove a ban on lethal weapons sales to Vietnam soon, according to Associated Press, or AP. Both U.S. and Vietnam are concerned about China's growing assertions over disputed regions of the South China Sea.

According to Le Hai Binh, the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Dempsey and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's visit later this year will be "concrete steps to promote and implement the comprehensive partnership" that was formed last July when Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang visited the U.S, AP reported.

In May, the relationship between China and Vietnam soured as Beijing deployed an oil rig to a disputed region of the South China Sea, enraging Vietnamese, who retaliated by torching mostly Chinese-owned factories, and forcing Beijing to evacuate its citizens from the country.

Relations between the U.S. and China too have suffered in recent months as both countries have exchanged sharp words over China's renewed territorial aggression in the region, and traded accusations of cyber-espionage against each other.