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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Laos for historic visit

Clinton is the first US secretary of state to visit the country in 57 years.

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pictured in Hanoi, Vietnam on July 10, 2012, a day before flying to Laos. (Luong Thai Linh/AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton has become the first US secretary of state to visit Laos in 57 years.

AFP reports that Clinton landed in the capital Vientiane early on Wednesday morning, and quotes a senior US officials as saying: "It's a pretty big deal for the Laotians."

The last top US diplomat to visit Laos was John Foster Dulles in 1955.

The Wall Street Journal says the day-long visit comes at "a crucial time." China is expanding its influence in the region, leaving the US scrambling to rebuild alliances in Southeast Asia.

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It explains that Laos is the smallest economy in Southeast Asia, but has "significant" untapped mineral resources and a growing consumer market.

Plans to build a controversial dam on the Mekong River are likely to top the agenda during Clinton's visit, according to the BBC.  The effects of Agent Orange, a defoliant used during the Vietnam war, is also likely to be discussed.

Voice of America says that Clinton's schedule for Wednesday included talks with the country's deputy prime minister and foreign minister, as well as Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong. She will also tour the Ho Phra Keo temple in Vientiane, before traveling to Cambodia to attend a conference with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Clinton's current tour includes stops in France, Japan, Mongolia, Vietnam, Egypt and Israel.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/120711/us-secretary-state-hillary-clinton-laos-historic-visit