Cablegate: The Prime Minister and Thich Huyen Quang

Published: Thu 3 Apr 2003 10:14 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: The Prime Minister and Thich Huyen Quang
Ref: A. Hanoi 0809 B. Hanoi 0631 C. Hanoi 175
1. (U) Vietnamese media, including television on April 2
and all major newspapers including the Communist Party of
Vietnam's flagstaff "Nhan Dan" and the military's "Quan Doi
Nhan Dan" on April 3, gave prominent coverage to an April 2
meeting between Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Thich
("Most Venerable") Huyen Quang, the patriarch of the pre-
1975 United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). (Note: The
UBCV is not recognized by the GVN and several of whose
leaders -- including Thich Huyen Quang -- have been under
house/pagoda arrest for many years. As noted in ref b,
Thich Huyen Quang was allowed to come to Hanoi in March for
medical treatment. End note)
2. (U) Media coverage of this apparently unprecedented
senior-level meeting was one-sided. Thich Huyen Quang was
not identified apart from his name and religious title; no
reference was made to the UBCV or any prior or current
leadership role played by him. His remarks to the Prime
Minister were not covered in the media. Articles claimed
that he had requested the meeting and the Prime Minister had
"accepted" the request. (Note: According to Thich Huyen
Quang himself -- ref a -- the Ministry of Public Security
had "invited" him to remain in Hanoi for a few days because
a senior leader wished to meet him. End note)
3. (U) According to media coverage, the Prime Minister
described the CPV's and GVN's policy of religious freedom in
Vietnam and urged Thich Huyen Quang to "participate actively
in making contributions" toward national development and
national solidarity.
4. (U) According to a press release from the International
Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris (an often harsh critic
of the SRV), Thich Huyen Quang spoke frankly about
limitations on religious freedom in Vietnam during his
meeting with the Prime Minister.
5. (U) Ambassador Burghardt will be meeting with Thich
Huyen Quang in a previously scheduled appointment on April 4
and will have the opportunity to ask more about the
background to this meeting, its contents, and Thich Huyen
Quang's assessment of its implications for his own future
and for the UBCV..
6. (SBU) Comment: However welcome this meeting and
surprisingly extensive publicity are, Embassy does not
believe that this treatment of the Patriarch presages a
formal recognition of the UBCV or an end to harassment of
its leaders and followers. Thich Huyen Quang himself, as of
April 1, still expected to have to return to his "pagoda
arrest" in Quang Ngai province shortly. The meeting may
nonetheless reflect the GVN's growing recognition that its
previous more hard-line attitude toward this elderly and
still respected religious leader had only won the GVN
decades of bad publicity and years of pressure from the USG
and other international observers. GVN leaders may also
have feared likely international condemnation had Thich
Huyen Quang died in an isolated pagoda in the country
without any GVN effort at reconciliation. The key will be
to see whether there is any follow-on to what is so far
pretty much of a one-time phenomenon.
7. (SBU ) Comment, continued: This attempt by the CPV and
GVN to appear more positive toward religion in general is
also in line with the CPV resolution on religion issued at
the end of the second phase of the 9th CPV's seventh plenum
in January (ref C). This resolution, whose full contents
were released only in March, included many tributes to the
role of religion (at least for a "small sector" of the
public) and the right of religious belief (as well as of
"non-belief"), while nonetheless coming down squarely in
favor of greater supervision of religious bodies and the
need for all religious believers to engage only in "legal"
activities and to conform their international contacts with
the foreign policy of the CPV and GVN.
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