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US Agent Orange cleanup in Vietnam indicative of stronger ties

The joint, $43 million project also comes as the US is looking to increase its presence in the Asia Pacific region.

By Kate HodalCorrespondent / August 9, 2012

A warning sign stands in a field contaminated with dioxin near Danang airport, during a ceremony marking the start of a project to clean up dioxin left over from the Vietnam War, at a former US military base in Danang, Vietnam, Thursday, Aug. 9.

Maika Elan/AP

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The US government's landmark decision to clean up the herbicide Agent Orange – some 50 years after it was first used to defoliate Vietnam's jungle during the Vietnam War – is yet another indicator that Washington is committed to fostering positive relations with its one-time foe, analysts say.

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The clean-up is well-timed: The US is looking to increase its presence in the Asia Pacific region economically, diplomatically, and militarily. At the same time, relations in the Pacific are particularly strained, not least between China and Vietnam. Anti-Beijing protests have racked Hanoi's streets for the past five weeks as the two nations go head-to-head over claims in the South China Sea, an area of vast oil, gas, and mineral wealth to which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Taiwan all also lay partial claim. The subject caused considerable controversy at last month's Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting, where foreign ministers disagreed over how to resolve the longstanding issue.

So it is perhaps a softening of blows to have the US finally extend its help in an on-the-ground cleanup after decades of questioning the claim that the 20 million gallons of Agent Orange dumped across Vietnam during the war caused adverse health effects in Vietnamese citizens. The joint project with Vietnam will cost $43 million, and is expected to take four years.  

US Ambassador David Shear described the removing of the chemical dioxin from the former US airbase in Danang, central Vietnam, where it was long stored, as "the first steps [in] bury[ing] the legacies of our past" and indicated that a subsequent 47-acres clean up may also include Bien Hoa air base in southern Vietnam, another Agent Orange hotspot.

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