Cablegate: Thich Quang Do Comes to Dinner
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH
DE RUEHHM #0732/01 1931240
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 121240Z JUL 06
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1105
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 0813
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 1163
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000732
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PINR SOCI PREL KIRF PGOV VM
SUBJECT: THICH QUANG DO COMES TO DINNER
HO CHI MIN 00000732 001.2 OF 002
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Venerable Thich Quang Do, President of
the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, attended a small
dinner hosted by the Consul General July 10 -- despite the
monk's ongoing pagoda arrest. He welcomed the opportunity to
talk at length about the need for political change in Vietnam
and was clearly enjoying the company. We had informed the
External Relations Office about the invitation prior to the
event. The GVN sent a police escort but made no attempt to
prevent Thich Quang Do's attendance. End Summary.
2. (SBU) The Consul General extended an invitation for dinner to
Thich Quang Do, President of the UBCV and his aide Thich Vien
Dinh, Vice-President and General Secretary of the UBCV. Also in
attendance were British Consul General Deborah Clarke and Kim
Depenham from the Australian Consulate. (Invitations were
declined by the EU Commission, Finnish EU presidency and French
Embassy, all in Hanoi.) CG Winnick informed ERO Director Le
Quoc Hung about the invitation in mid-June; Hung protested the
idea at that time, but no other GVN comments were communicated
to us. Two days prior to the dinner, Poloff alerted ERO about
the time and place of the dinner. On July 10, Poloff and
Pol/Econ specialist met Thich Quang Do and Thich Vien Dinh at
their pagodas and escorted them to the CG Residence. Aside from
the follow car of government minders the dinner took place
3. (SBU) Over the course of three hours, Thich Quang Do
explained UBCV concerns and objectives as follows:
-- The majority of Vietnamese are starved for change in the
political system. They want a multiparty system and an end to
the Communist Party's monopoly on power, and are looking to
international community to push for this change.
-- Vietnam has had the same single-party system for sixty years
and the CPV will never give up its exclusive power. Just before
the Tenth Party Congress, there was some hope for change when
the CPV asked for public comment on its draft political report,
but the loosening never quite materialized. For example, the
GVN has prohibited public gatherings of more than five people.
-- The UBCV hopes the U.S. will use WTO and PNTR to encourage
the GVN to become more democratic, i.e. by setting up a
multi-party system before WTO entry and the granting of PNTR.
-- Examples of how WTO and APEC are making GVN show more
apparent openness and tolerance are GVN reactions to new
democratic movements. The 8406 Manifesto on Freedom and
Democracy for Vietnam has not resulted in any crackdowns by GVN
on this movement or its leader Father Nguyen Van Ly.
-- Another example of the GVN movement toward apparent openness
is its toleration, thus far, of the Democratic Party of Vietnam.
This kind of openness needs to be nurtured.
-- However, the GVN show of openness is a front. Once APEC ends
and PNTR is granted, the GVN will return to its normal
operations and roll back any democratic gains. In fact, the GVN
is continuing its repressive acts in more subtle ways. For
instance, when the Democratic Party was reestablished the police
set up blocks around Hoang Minh Chinh's home. The Democratic
Party of Vietnam, so long as it remains alive, is a threat to
the Communist Party.
-- In regards to the 8406 group, TQD said that the GVN allowed
the Manifesto to be issued because it helped to show that
Vietnam is more open; and also the manifesto served to identify
GVN opponents. He noted that among the 8406 members, there are
likely to be some fake dissidents and provocateurs. TQD put
more stock in the DPV and its members.
-- Social conditions in Vietnam are the worst in 1000 years of
Vietnamese history. Mothers sell their babies and Vietnamese
girls are forced into marriages in Taiwan while GVN officials
bet millions of dollars on soccer games, prostitution is rising
and Vietnamese have to look for work as contract labor abroad.
-- The Communist Party would not have to dissolve under a
multi-party system. It could exist among other parties and, in
fact, would be in a good position because its leaders have
experience governing. The problem is they have had too many
exclusive benefits for too long.
-- Another concern for the future of Vietnam is the expansion of
China into Southeast Asia. The GVN and PRC are linked by
ideology, but each has its own interests. The U.S. and the EU
are concerned about Chinese expansion and see support for
Vietnam, even with the current regime, as a bulwark against
Chinese expansion. By the same token, TQD stated that GVN has
to balance between these two forces - China and the West.
However, there is no need for Vietnam to fear China, especially
HO CHI MIN 00000732 002.2 OF 002
so long as the U.S. and EU provide continuing support for
-- China's leaders do not want Vietnam to become democratic,
because they understand that if the Vietnamese people have
democracy, the Chinese people will demand it as well.
-- TQD demonstrated a powerful sense of nationalism in his
distrust of China. He faulted the GVN for not advancing
Vietnamese interests in countering China's influence.
-- The draft law on associations does not hold much promise for
democracy because if GVN determines any association to be
dangerous, it will put a stop to it. The existence of
Fatherland Front is another way the GVN will continue to control
organizations. TQD cited himself as an example, saying he would
never be allowed to lead an organization.
-- The UBCV is aware of GVN suggestions that it register under a
different name and without TQD and Thich Huyen Quang, or that
the UBCV and the official VBS might merge. The UBCV was willing
to support a merger if the merged entity were not part of the
Fatherland Front. The GVN would never permit this.
-- The UBCV has established UBCV provincial boards in ten
provinces with varying numbers of members. The GVN has
unsuccessfully tried to dissolve these boards (only I can
dissolve them, TQD said) but the GVN has been able to block
4. (SBU) Thich Quang Do also informed us about the conditions of
his pagoda arrest. He stated he does not have visitors except
for a few UBCV monks because "no one else dares" to visit him.
He only leaves the pagoda to see his doctor monthly to monitor
his diabetes. He stated he is reluctant to attempt to visit
other pagodas because the police will then question and threaten
the monks there. In February he attempted to visit Patriarch
Thich Huyen Quang, but he only made it to the train station
before being forcibly returned to his pagoda. He noted,
however, that he is able to communicate with the Patriarch
through other means and that he also communicates with the
International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris through
friends who send messages on his behalf. He spends most of his
time in his room and is served his meals there. He can move
around the pagoda but cannot teach, preside over services, or
participate in ceremonies. He chuckled in recounting how a
policeman was always on hand during services to ensure that he
could not grab the microphone.
5. (SBU) Comment: TQD's positions were consistent with our
previous meetings with him in his room at the pagoda. The
remarkable aspect of the dinner was that it occurred at all, and
with little fuss by the authorities. Although Thich Quang Do
predicts a clampdown following the GVN's achievement of its
objectives, the more normal expanded political space becomes,
the harder it will be to backtrack. (Frankly, we expected more
pushback from the GVN. The only sign of nervousness came on the
morning of July 4 when the ERO called us in for a final
assurance that no dissidents would be attending our national day
reception this year. As it turned out, the GVN sent HCMC
Chairman, Politburo member and just-elected Party Secretary Le
Thanh Hai as its senior representative along with chairmen of
seven nearby provinces.)
6. (SBU) Comment, continued: Thich Quang Do's strong support
for a multiparty system and an end to the Communist Party's
"dictatorship" shows his resolute opposition to the GVN. He has
been consistent with this message. However, he is beginning to
acknowledge the existence of emerging democratic movements as a
possible indicator of change. He clearly sees his hope for a
more democratic Vietnam as dependent on the international
community, specifically the U.S. and EU. End Comment.