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Cablegate: Implementing Party Resolutions On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HANOI 001698

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR EAP/BCLTV AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PINS PGOV VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: IMPLEMENTING PARTY RESOLUTIONS ON
- RELIGION AND MINORITIES

REF: A. HANOI 1687 B. HANOI 0175
- C. FBIS 20030324000089 D. 02 HANOI 1653

1. (SBU) Summary. According to CPV and GVN authorities in
Hanoi and the Northwest Highlands, new CPV resolutions on
ethnic minorities and religion do little more than reiterate
long-standing policies, while nonetheless trying to elevate
attention to these issues and the need for better
implementation. On the ground, nothing seems to have
changed. Officials have refuted allegations of forced
renunciations of faith, while confirming that evangelism is
essentially illegal. Despite more conciliatory comments
from the new Chairman of Government Committee on Religious
Affairs, most CPV officials seem to view religion as an
inherited quality, like ethnicity, which makes them
reluctant to accept the possibility of conversions. Their
own underground history likely also makes them unusually
sensitive to "threats" from evangelism and "illegal"
gatherings in Vietnam's mountainous areas. End Summary.

2. (U) The second session of the seventh plenum of the
Communist Party of Vietnam's 9th Central Committee in
January adopted new, sweeping resolutions of CPV policy
regarding work on religious affairs, work with ethnic
minorities, and land use (ref B). Ref C provides full text
of the religious affairs resolution.

The Hanoi view
--------------

3. (U) In a meeting with Pol/C on June 30, Dr. Nguyen Duc
Lu, Director of the Ho Chi Minh National Political Academy's
Center for "Science of Belief and Religion," explained the
passage of the resolutions on religion and minorities in
particular as a clear symbol of the importance the CPV
places on handling these issues well. (Note: As reported
in ref D, this Center not only trains CPV and GVN cadres on
religious policy, but also provides recommendations on
policy and regulations related to religion. End note) He
emphasized that these resolutions did not/not indicate a
shift in CPV policy. However, he noted that previous CPV
policy on religion had been issued by the Politburo; the
decision to have the full Central Committee consider and
approve this resolution demonstrated the broad scope and
support for the CPV policy. He added that the Central
Committee resolutions, and expected subsequent study
sessions at all levels of the CPV, would "popularize" and
"unify" the "positive" views of the CPV toward ethnic and
religious affairs and "encourage greater understanding."
Dr. Lu reiterated that the CPV view is that "religion has a
good role in promoting humanitarianism, good conduct, and
culture."

4. (U) Dr. Lu nonetheless cited concerns within the CPV
about the "threat" from "hostile forces" who use illegal
religious activities or illegal religions to undermine the
State -- key themes of the resolution on religion. He
claimed, however, that such concerns did not stem from
specific recent incidents, much less the 2001 demonstrations
in the Central Highlands. When pressed, he also admitted
that "hostile forces" -- while being "hard to define" --
referred to individuals and organizations based overseas,
and not/not to any programs or policies of the USG.

5. (U) Dr. Lu noted some "confusion" about what -- exactly
-- constitutes "legal" and "illegal" religious activities,
and said his staff is currently conducting research on this
issue. The CPV and GVN are still drafting regulations
covering religious activities that will spell this out in
greater specificity, but much remains unresolved. He has
already participated in two conferences on these
regulations; he admitted a "lack of unanimity." He declined
to predict when the regulations would be passed, but
indicated that the goal was in the next year or two. Still
further ahead would be an even more definitive national law
on religion, which the National Assembly would pass. He
expressed frank incredulity that the USG did not regulate
the tenets of faith of religious denominations and "cults,"
noting the possibility of cults teaching "immoral
practices." Pol/C explained the US Constitutional
separation of Church and State, and official respect for the
personal nature of faith.

6. (U) When Pol/C described continuing reports from Lai
Chau, Lao Cai, and elsewhere of attempts at forced
renunciations of faith, primarily among ethnic minority
Protestants (ref a), Dr. Lu emphasized that any such efforts
would indeed be illegal and that no one had the right either
to force someone to believe or not to believe. He implied
that such reports might be fabricated by outside agitators.
He added that Vietnamese remember how the French authorities
had used the "pretext" of protecting Catholics in order to
colonialize Vietnam, and implied that the CPV had to be
vigilant to ensure that the "hostile forces" had no similar
plans using a Protestant excuse.

7. (U) Dr. Lu was vague when asked about the legality of
evangelism and proselytism. He initially indicated that
Vietnamese have the right to spread their faith, but then
added that, in principle, people who do so should be
graduates from a recognized religious training center.
(Note: The Protestant Seminary in Hanoi has been closed for
a decade, and the seminary affiliated with the Southern
Evangelical Church of Vietnam only opened in 2003. End
note)

On the ground
-------------

8. (U) To determine provincial implementation of and
attention to these resolutions and to investigate claims of
harassment of ethnic minorities, Pol/C and Pol FSN visited
Lai Chau and Son La provinces during the week of June 23.
Both have only a minority of Kinh residents, with ethnic
Thais predominant in each. Each has significant Hmong
populations and borders with Laos. Lai Chau also has a
border with China. Both are among the poorest provinces in
the country in terms of per capita income.

9. (U) Provincial authorities in both Lai Chau and Son Lao
flatly asserted that there were no religious believers of
any kind living in these provinces. Not only are there no
Catholic churches or Protestant worship centers, there are
not even any Buddhist temples, they claimed, citing the
remote locations and different cultural traditions of the
ethnic minorities. They admitted that that many, perhaps
most, families (Kinh and minorities alike) engage in some
traditional ancestor worship. At the same time, they
stressed that all citizens have the freedom to believe or
not to believe, as "guaranteed" in the Constitution. Lai
Chau officials admitted that there had been some efforts at
evangelism by Hmong Protestants, noting that such such
activities were "not according to the law" (while not
explicitly labeling them "illegal.") They declined to
comment on whether anyone had been arrested or punished for
having engaged in evangelism.

10. (U) In the absence of worship centers, Son La
officials escorted Pol/C to visit a shrine to a 15th century
Vietnamese king who once visited this scenic spot. Despite
official prohibitions on "superstitious activities," the
shrine was full of recent high school graduates lighting
incense to pray for good luck on the July 4 nationwide
university examinations. The Ministry of Culture and
Information has just devoted 4 billion VND (USD 267,000) to
construct a temple-like building adjacent to the cave in
which the shrine has long existed.

11. (U) Officials in both provinces firmly denied the
possibility of the reports Pol/C cited about harassment and
forced renunciation of faith. They claimed such incidents
were "impossible" given the non-existence of religious
believers. They insisted that there were no official
programs to convince people either not to believe in
religion or to renounce religious belief. They declined to
comment on whether any official discovered to have attempted
forced renunciation of faith could be punished
administratively or under the law. Lai Chau officials also
flatly denied reports of a December 2002 gassing episode in
Hoi Huong hamlet, although another provincial official had
at the time confirmed a barebones version of this incident
by phone to Embassy.

12. (U) The passage of the seventh plenum resolutions on
minorities and religion indicated the "full importance" the
CPV and GVN places on proper work in these fields, officials
noted, while insisting that there was no change in Vietnam's
"consistent" policies. They emphasized that there were no
new programs, initiatives, or training efforts following up
on these resolutions, and claimed that there had not even
been any special classes or meetings to discuss the contents
of these resolutions. When pressed (with Pol/C reading from
a VNA account of instructions given to the Ethnic Minorities
Commission Chairman at the May 2003 Cabinet meeting), Lai
Chau officials admitted that a delegation from Commission
had visited the province in early June to "seek opinions" on
how better to handle minority affairs. Officials said that
their bottom line response was "give us more resources."

13. (U) Officials uniformly stressed that the most
important way to help ethnic minorities was to promote
overall economic development, as well as related programs
against hunger and illiteracy, in order to "guarantee
equality and solidarity." Infrastructural investment under
Program 135 was an important aspect of these efforts,
including roads, schools, and health clinics, they noted.
They nonetheless admitted that no educational programs in
minority languages were yet available. Lai Chau is now
seeking to popularize junior high school education. Son La
has yet to achieve even universal primary education,
although it has set a goal to ensure universal junior high
school education by 2008.

14. (U) Despite the predominance of ethnic minority
populations and the reiteration of the importance of ethnic
minority policy by the 7th plenum, only about 30 pct of
provincial-level cadres in Lai Chau are now ethnic
minorities (rising to 70-80 pct at the local levels),
officials admitted. In Son La, provincial officials claimed
to have no idea of these ratios, but most of the provincial
officials who met with Pol/C were ethnic Kinh or mixed
Kinh/minority. Notably, when the ethnic Kinh "handlers"
took Pol/C and FSN to visit a "typical" Thai residence (of
the village party chief), they ignored the well-known Thai
habit of taking off shoes at the entrance to the house, took
no note of the row of sandals outside the door and the bare
feet of the host and hostess, and even appeared nonplussed
when Pol/C and FSN took off their own shoes before entering.

Comment
-------

15. (SBU) Freedom of religion continues to mean different
things to Americans and Vietnamese officials. In a recent
meeting with Ambassador, the new head of the Government
Committee on Religious Affairs took a generally conciliatory
line. Overall, however, the more general CPV view appears
to be that religion is essentially an inherited
characteristic, much like ethnicity. While the CPV's own
history demonstrates how young idealists can be turned into
Communists by reading seminal documents or listening to a Ho
Chi Minh, current-day CPV logic appears to try to rule out
the possibility of conversion after contact with a religious
believer or first reading of the Bible, Koran, or Buddhist
teachings. That may be why the CPV/GVN is seemingly
reluctant to register new churches (or temples) even within
the framework of already legal religious organizations, much
less reach formal acceptance of "new" religious bodies like
the Ba'hai, Baptists, or the United Buddhist Church of
Vietnam. Alternatively, it is exactly because they are
well aware of how successfully the CPV's ideological and
administrative base grew underground in the first half of
the 20th century that CPV leaders remain sharply alive to
the "dangers" posed in particularly by non-recognized
Protestants targeting already marginalized ethnic grounds in
sensitive border provinces, and why they are seeking to
ensure that all activities in these areas be fully and
openly "legal" and under their supervision.
BURGHARDT

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