Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Thich Quang Do meets U.S. consulate official

Venerable Thich Quang Do, leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, received on Feb. 26 Ms. Katia Bennett, who is the political officer of the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City. During the meeting he described government strategies to contain Buddhism and also expressed his unhappiness with a recent statement made by Sec. of State Hillary Clinton on the issue of human rights and U.S.-China relations. He discussed the meeting in a Feb. 28 interview with Y Lan (Penelope Faulkner) of Radio Free Asia.

The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) was once the largest Buddhist organization of south Vietnam, bringing together Buddhists of both major traditions, Theravada and Mahayana. Many of its leaders were also active in the movement for peace and human rights and developed ties with international peace organizations. After 1975 it came under systematic persecution, culminating in 1981 with its forced incorporation into a newly created state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church (VBC), which all Buddhist organizations were required to join. Thich Quang Do and Thich Huyen Quang were the two UBCV leaders who spoke out most strongly against this policy, and consequently spent most of the subsequent years in house arrest or internal exile. Thich Huyen Quang died last year, but Thich Quang Do remains active and is a contender for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Here are some of the main points he made in his meeting with Ms. Bennett, as told to Y Lan:

First, he expressed his "grave concern" over a statement made by Sec. of State Clinton in Beijing, when she said enroute to China that human rights concerns "can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises;" and that it might be better for the U.S. and China to agree to disagree on the issue of human rights. Thich Quang Do said this statement was "like a bucket of cold water poured over my head;" that her statement carries "serious implications for all those braving imprisonment, torture, even death to free teir countries from the chains of dictatorship.."

Ms. Bennett replied that human rights would always remain a cornerstone of U.S. human rights policy, and gave him a copy of the annual U.S. human rights report, which included some strong criticism of Vietnam's practices. Thich Quang Do said whatever the U.S. position, he and others would continue to struggle, but "it is so hard to struggle under Vietnam's one-party state." He said support from the U.S. and Europe is essential to their cause.

On the UBCV situation in Vietnam, he told her that the government's strategy has shifted since 2000, from public trials and prison sentences to methods such as house arrest, or administrative detention by oral orders only, so the leading monks could be detained without any legal trace. He described his room at Thanh Minh Zen monastery in the city as like a prison cell, adding that he was followed by security officials whereever he went.

He said the government has made some major moves to undermine the UBCV in recent years: "Beginning in 2005, they used a number of monks from abroad, especially Thich Nhat Hanh, to launch a so-called 'reconciliation' plan..", which meant merging the UBCV with the state sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church. However, this plan was rejected by UBCV leaders because they felt such a merge would turn UBCV monks into lackeys of the state.

In 2006, the government proposed creation of a new church, the General Buddhist Church, which would embrace all others. This proposal was also rejected by UBCV leaders.

In 2007 the government tried two different strategies: "Firstly, they approached a number of UBCV monks and promised the government would legalize the UBCV if they applied to register. Naturally, we could not accept this because the UBCV already has a legal status. We have never been banned, therefore we have no need to register. Secondly, they promised a number of UBCV monks to legalize the UBCV on condition that Thich Huyen Quang and I were excluded from the leadership. These two strategies were also unsuccessful."

In 2008, he said, the Vietnam government "covertly created a movement called 'Back to one’s Roots', using a number of UBCV monks based abroad, particularly in Europe, Australia-New Zealand and Canada who set up a so-called 'Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam Overseas.' In fact, 'back to one’s roots' meant going back to Vietnam to take part in the UN Day of the Vesak, hosted by the government in Hanoi. Thich Nhat Hanh went, along with a large number of monks from abroad. The plan was to formally announce their break-away from the UBCV during the Vesak festival. Once the UBCV had been publicly rejected [by its own members], it would be easy to destroy its name and reputation, and wipe out the UBCV once and for all. Fortunately, UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang issued Edict No. 9 to stop this movement from developing. Thanks to this, the UBCV escaped this danger.."

Edict No. 9 issued by Thich Huyen Quang in Sept. 2007 was, according to Que Me, intended to counter Hanoi's efforts to infiltrate overseas UbCV leadership by "creating a new framework for the UBCV Overseas Office and appointing a new leadership team for its sections in the Europe, Canada, the USA and Australia."

Thich Quang Do said he expects continued government efforts to undermine and destroy the UBCV, within Vietnam and overseas. But "we will never submit, we will never become slaves of the Communist Party," he told Y Lan. "I made that quite clear to Ms. Bennett."

Source: Que Me press release March 11.


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