The United States earlier this month announced a $29 million contract to clean up dioxin contamination at Bien Hoa Air Base in southern Vietnam, near Ho Chi Minh City, a result of U.S. use of the herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. mother.
The move is the latest attempt to show cooperation between the two countries despite a still strained relationship.
Nations are now working together on issues of trade, climate change, and the legacies of war, such as the dioxin spill, or so-called Christmas bombs, 50 years ago this month, when the United States dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong.
“This announcement represents the United States’ commitment to our partnership with Vietnam,” said Aler Grubbs, director of the Vietnam mission in Hanoi for the United States Agency for International Development. “This contract will complete critical preparatory work, paving the way for the treatment phase of the project.”
Some differences still remain between the United States and Vietnam, from human rights to Bien Hoa itself, with the two unable to agree on a cemetery for former South Vietnamese soldiers, with whom the United States was an ally against the communists. North Vietnam in the war that ended in 1975 with the victory of North Vietnam.
USAID said it completed a similar project in 2018 to clean up Agent Orange and other chemicals it had sprayed around Da Nang in central Vietnam to destroy forest cover by communist forces during the war. She said that compared to Da Nang, Bien Hoa would need to deal with four times more chemically contaminated land, still linked to birth defects.
Similarly, samples of tilapia fish collected in Bien Hoa in 2010 continued to show levels of Agent Orange considered unhealthy, according to a report from Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Development Program of Vietnam. United Nations.
Vu Van Liem, general manager of VINA E&C Investment and Construction JSC, said: “We look forward to applying our expertise to meet the high safety and health requirements and technical specifications of the project, and contribute to the overall success of the project. be.” the company that received the contract to excavate the soil and prepare it for treatment for a period of four years.
Both the US and Vietnamese governments are participating in the cleanup of the entire country, which is estimated to take more than 10 years at a cost of about $450 million. Washington said it expects to eventually spend $300 million and has already allocated more than $163 million.
Both nations have come a long way since the war, although their problems of reconciliation persist. The United States has routinely pressured Vietnam’s autocratic government to recognize freedom of expression and release political prisoners, but Hanoi denies this.
In one of the latest developments, for example, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on December 2 that Vietnam would be placed on a “Special Watch List for engaging in or tolerating serious violations of religious freedom,” along with Algeria. Central African Republic, and Comoros.
“Countries that protect effectively [religion] and other human rights are more peaceful, stable, prosperous, and reliable partners than those that do not make the United States.”
“We will carefully monitor the state of freedom of religion and belief in every country around the world and advocate for those who face religious persecution or discrimination.”
Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused to put it on the watch list.
“Vietnam has recently completed the legal system and policies on religion and belief,” the ministry said in a reply on December 15.
“These efforts and achievements to ensure the freedom of religion and beliefs have been widely recognized by the international community.”
However, while Washington was pressing on the problem of Vietnam, it was also trying to solve another problem. Cleaning up Agent Orange at Bien Hoa was more than cleaning up a mess decades after the war. At the same time, it was to look to the next decades, to show a closer cooperation, for example on solving environmental problems in the future.
“This marks the largest contract yet by USAID to a local Vietnamese organization,” Grubbs said, “as we make a concerted effort to build Vietnamese expertise in this new area of environmental health and safety.” do it.”