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Monday, 23 July, 2001, 06:47 GMT 07:47 UK
Powell begins first East Asia visit
US Secretary of State Colin Powell
Powell is making an emotional return to Vietnam
American Secretary of State Colin Powell is beginning his first trip to East Asia since taking office.

The visit includes the first high-level meeting between the United States and China since relations were plunged into crisis in April when a US spy plane made an emergency landing on Hainan island.

Mr Powell will also make his first return to Vietnam since he made two tours of duty as an American soldier in the 1960s.

Before he left Washington, Mr Powell spoke of visiting an exciting region in the midst of great transformation.

Spy plane

But economic turmoil and political uncertainty are also likely to be important themes, says the BBC's Jon Leyne.

Perhaps the most important meetings will be in Beijing, where the United States and China must address a relationship damaged by the crash-landing of the American EP3 spy plane.

US EP-3 spy plane
The trip will involve the highest-level US-Chinese talks since the spy plane incident

Mr Powell has made it clear he now wants to move on.

"We have dealt with the EP3 incident that was a bit of an irritation a few months ago, and I'm looking forward to making it absolutely clear to the Chinese leaders that we're looking for a better relationship. The United States is not seeking enmity with China ..."

Other key regional issues for the United States include the future of North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes and growing anger in Japan over the presence of US military bases.

Vietnam War

But many of these issues may be overshadowed by a very personal experience for Mr Powell himself - his first return to Vietnam since serving there in the war 32 years ago.

"The tiers of my life were spent fighting in Vietnam against that system and I lost many of my friends, some of my best friends from college, fraternity members, a lot of people I was close to, so I'm sure that there will be an emotional tinge when I get there ..."

Mr Powell will also visit Japan, South Korea and Australia.

It is the most serious engagement of the American administration in the region since President Bush took office - the opening chapter in a series of intriguing and complex relations.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
EU Director for Asian Affairs, Jonathan Sheele
"Burma is very much on the agenda"
See also:

21 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
No Spratlys accord for Asean summit
19 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea downplays Asean forum
30 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thai-Burmese tension at ASEAN meet
03 Apr 01 | Business
Safeguarding Asian currencies
07 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
ASEAN meeting ends in Thailand
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