Vietnam-US relations: Chronological Overview (Part 2)

Published: 21/09/2008 05:00



VietNamNet Bridge - At international gatherings, representatives from the United States and Vietnam now often stand next to each other. But to be able to come that close, beyond the alphabetical order lies between them not only the Pacific but also a long and winding road.’

Chiefs of State at APEC Summit 2006 in Hanoi
Vietnam joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1995, and began implementing the roadmap of the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) while making significant contributions to the group’s development by actively participating in all activities and often coming up with initiatives for actions. At the 6th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi in December 1998, Vietnam introduced the Ha Noi Plan of Action to help translate the Vision 2000, an ideological groundwork to establish an ASEAN Community, into real action.

The United States is working actively to implement elements of the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership agreement, which was adopted in July 2006. The United States has also negotiated a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) with ASEAN and a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore, and has begun FTA negotiations with Malaysia and Thailand. In addition, the U.S. Pacific Command is deeply involved in military exchanges and joint drills with a number of Southeast Asian nations.

In the relationship with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Vietnam gained its membership in 1998 and has since been actively participating in the forum. At the APEC summit hosted in November 2006 in Hanoi, which was attended by leaders from 21 member economies including U.S. President George W. Bush. Vietnam introduced the Ha Noi Action Plan that would not only be a guide for economic and trade cooperation within APEC members over the next 15 years, but would also strengthen and improve APEC’s cooperative mechanism.

As a WTO member since January 2007, Vietnam has made many economic achievements, thus contributing to the overall success of the global trading club.

Emerging to the world arena, Vietnam has become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council since January 2008 after receiving on the first ballot 183 votes out of the UN General Council’s 192 members in October 2007.

In July 2008 Vietnam will take its turn in holding the Security Council presidency, a position that rotates monthly according to the English alphabetical listing of member states. In recent months it has been actively raising its voice in all UN Security Council documents to protect principles of international law and the UN Charter towards respecting independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

Military exchange, MIA

US Defense Secretary Donal Runsfeld visits Hanoi in June 2006

In one of the earliest military exchanges between the two countries since 1995, U.S. Defence Secretary William Cohen made a three-day visit to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in March 2000. He visited the Military Institute, the Command of Military Zone 7, Air Force Regiment 921 and also went to an MIA excavation site in the northern province of Ha Tay. The United States has opened MIA office in Hanoi since 1990.

In November 2003 Vietnam Defence Minister Pham Van Tra visited the United States and a week later a U.S. Navy frigate, the Japan-based Vandegrift with its 200 soldiers aboard, arrived at Saigon Port in Ho Chi Minh City, the first U.S. warship to make a port call since the end of the war. The events were described in a research to the Congress in late 2003 as “two incremental steps in forming a new, as yet undefined, security relationship.”

So far the U.S. military activities with Vietnam include various expert exchanges, annual U.S. Navy ship visits, and medical assistance and training. The two also work to address significant U.S. interest to locate, identify and return remains of MIAs.

Funded by the U.S. Defence Department, the United States helped train Vietnamese in the disposal of unexploded ordnance and demining, treatment of burn victims.

“The United States and Vietnam have shared interests in many areas including a long standing interest in finding persons missing from combat, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief, weather warning and other areas where our interests intersect and we can work together,” Lieutenant General Dan Leaf, U.S. Pacific Command Deputy Commander, in May 2007 during a visit that took him to Hanoi and Nha Trang.

During the visit, the Vietnamese delegation asked about the possibility of sending students for study at U.S. military academies, participating in military medicine and information technology training, and procuring replacement parts for existing equipment.

The two sides also discussed opportunities for weather forecasting training that would help Vietnam better predict and prepare for tsunamis and storms.

In April 2008 the U.S. Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC), in cooperation with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP), held a repatriation ceremony at Danang International Airport to transfer possible remains believed to be those of Americans who died during the war. The remains were recovered from excavation sites in Vietnam’s central region.

The ceremony on April 14 was the 106th post-war repatriation of remains from Vietnam. The U.S. Embassy said in a statement that to date, 883 Americans have been identified since 1975, of them 627 from Vietnam, 224 from Laos, 29 from Cambodia, and three from China.

“Seeking the fullest possible accounting of Americans is a matter of the highest national priority for the United States. The United States

“In crucial areas such as defence and security, we also have agreed with United States to implement IMET (International Military Education Training) and of course steps will be taken for Vietnam to participate Programme. The first step would be English training or training in medical expertise and other military expertise. After that, based on needs and requirements, we will take appropriate steps to increase our participation. During the visit to Washington, I am expected to visit the Secretary of Defense and will announce this issue.

We also will have an agreement on intelligence cooperation and in our embassy in Washington and our U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, there will be a staff post to share this intelligence, especially intelligence information on terrorism, transnational crimes and money - laundering, and for the two sides to increase the exchange of intelligence.”

Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said in an interview with the Washington Post in June, 2005

welcomes and appreciates the cooperation and assistance of the Vietnamese government in both past and future field operations,” the Embassy said in the statement.

There are 1,763 Americans still unaccounted-for from the war in Southeast Asia, including 1,353 in Vietnam.

On the other hand, there is also an ongoing initiative for Vietnamese soldiers who died or considered missing during the war. The work started in 1993 when the Vietnam Veterans of America established the task force to gather information from Vietnam Veterans on where they buried Vietnamese soldiers. Since then the task force has handed Vietnam more than 200 dossiers containing information about more than 9,000 Vietnamese soldiers and also helped collect the remains of more than 900 soldiers.

The Vietnam-U.S. cooperation also achieved significant results in joint actions to fight drug trafficking, trans-national crimes and human trafficking.

Effective from April 2007 the U.S. Department of Defence amended the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) that allowed the United States to export non-lethal defence articles and defence services to Vietnam.

Agent orange and the cleanup plans

Danang Airport. The gateway for international tourists to check on the long, white sandy beach on Vietnam’s central coastline, home to the famous China Beach that was once a popular recreational resort for U.S. soldiers. But the arriving or outflying tourists would pay little attention to some environmental work near the airstrips. Only residents knew last year that they should not, for a while, go to the lake north of the airport for fishing as water, the soil and the cooking chain around the former U.S. airbase have been contaminated with dioxin which was stored there before 1975. The area has been identified as one of Vietnam’s largest hot spots of dioxin contamination.

Vietnamese Agent Orange victims in New York (2007)

According to the Committee 33, a governmental agency which helps cleanup chemicals used in wartime, during the 1961-1971 period, the U.S. army sprayed around 20 million gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides on forests and crops in Vietnam’s southern and central regions to stop supplies for the northern Vietnamese troops. Three million Vietnamese people and tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers are affected by Agent Orange - a chemical used by the U.S. government during the war which causes cancer, other life-threatening illnesses, and serious birth defects in children - even those born several generations after the war.

U.S. veterans received some compensation after years of struggle, but Vietnamese victims have received nothing from the U.S. government that sprayed Agent Orange and the chemical companies who made and profited from it.” Merle E. Ratner, Co-President of the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign (VAORRC) in the United States wrote in a report in June 2007.

In January 2004 the Vietnam Association of Victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin (VAVA) filed a lawsuit in the United States against the 37 companies that manufactured the chemical. In March 2005 the U.S. court judge dismissed the suit brought by more than 100 Vietnamese Agent Orange victims who then furthered their claim.

In February 2008 the U.S. Appeal Court in New York dismissed the petition. Its verdict denied the fact that AO/dioxin produced by U.S. chemical companies and sprayed during the war left serious consequences on the people and the environment in Vietnam. VAVA said it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court against the verdict.

“For decades dioxin remained an unresolved issue between the United States and Vietnam. The United States sought to avoid what appeared to be an open-ended liability; the Vietnamese were concerned that pushing too hard might jeopardise their export-led growth strategy and entry into the World Trade Organization. Today, the environmental and health legacy of Agent Orange/dioxin is still a problem in Vietnam, and it also continues to be an issue of great concern for U.S. veterans of the Vietnam War,” the U.S. Ford Foundation said in a statement.

In a joint statement issued in November 2006 during President Nguyen Minh Triet’s visit to the United States, the two countries said they “agreed that further joint efforts to address the environmental contamination near former dioxin storage sites would make a valuable contribution to the continued development of their bilateral relationship.”

Ford Foundation said it was supporting the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin, which brings together prominent persons from both countries who are seeking to increase awareness and resources around a humanitarian agenda foundation’s statement said.

In 2005, a project conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Vietnamese Academy of Science and Technology since early 2001 to build capacity in Vietnam for the analysis of dioxins and furans in the environment was completed.

U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine said in February 2007 that “the U.S. government understands the concerns of the government of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people about the impact of dioxin on the environment and human health. In response, the U.S. government has been actively engaged since 2001 on various levels with Vietnam on the issue of dioxin contamination.”

A $400,000 grant to help with technical support to assist the environmental remediation was announced in his speech.

The U.S. side has since been working closely with Vietnamese researchers to develop programmes for analysing the environment at the contaminated sites and also technical assistance of remediation.

In May 2007 President George W. Bush approved the supplemental appropriation bill for 2007, providing $3 million for the remediation of dioxin contaminated sites in Vietnam and to support health programmes in nearby communities. The Congress has, for the first time since the war ended in 1975, approved the funding.

The total cost to clean up the Danang airbase is estimated at $14 million, according to the U.S.-Vietnam Dialogue Group on Agent Orange/Dioxin and said it gave priority to support the dioxin cleanup and restore the soil at former U.S. military bases, support treatment and educational centres for victims of dioxin-related disorders, help develop a Vietnamese laboratory for dioxin testing, provide training for local communities and also education and advocacy to build support for ongoing efforts.

(Source: VN-US Society & Vietnam-US Magazine)

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