PARIS, 29 April 2008 (IBIB) – The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, prominent dissident and second-ranking leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) left house arrest to attend a rally protesting the Beijing 2008 Olympics torch relay in Ho Chi Minh City today, but found the streets blocked with Security and riot police. He was responding to an appeal launched by young Vietnamese students and activists to protest China’s claims of sovereignty over the Spratly and Paracel archipelagos and mark the UBCV’s solidarity with repressed Buddhist monks and civilians in Tibet.
Thich Quang Do, who is under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon, told Vo Van Ai, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau by telephone that he had taken advantage of his monthly hospital check-up to escape house arrest and attend the rally. “I am only allowed out once a month, and luckily, it was today”. He left his monastery early, and went straight from hospital to the Notre Dame Cathedral where the rally was secretly planned. He found the area completely blocked by Security Police, with vehicle access denied all around the Opera House, where the Olympic torch parade was set to begin. Thich Quang Do waited from 3.40pm until after 5.00pm, but saw no banners nor any sign of demonstrators. He told Vo Van Ai that the rally had clearly been pre-empted by security forces, who had orders to prevent all incidents and ensure “absolute security”.
“There were no protesters. But the streets were filled with young Chinese waving China’s five-star red flags, singing loudly and shouting out slogans. This made me feel terribly sad. In Vietnam today, young Chinese can proudly parade their flag. Whereas young Vietnamese, the children of this land, whose ancestors shed their blood to preserve our territory, civilisation and our identity, are forbidden by their own government, in their own land, from expressing their national pride and protesting this indignity”. He deplored that “Vietnam is too cowardly to confront China to claim back its lands. And when the people do it for them, instead of encouraging them to stand up for their country, the government represses them and treats them as criminals”.
Thich Quang Do recalled the UBCV’s own statement on 27 December 2007 protesting Vietnam’s concession of the contested Spratly and Paracel islands in which he stressed: “the UBCV cannot stand by silently whilst our country is in danger” and pledged to “give its active support to every peaceful effort to protect our homeland and our people”. It was in this spirit that, despite his poor health and at risk of grave reprisals, Thich Quang Do decided to attend the protest.
Thich Quang Do warned against the dangers of China’s “creeping invasion” and asked Vo Van Ai to pass on the UBCV’s appeal: “We must reclaim our sovereignty on the Spratly and Paracel Islands. If 85 million Vietnamese remain silent and submissive, we will lose everything. Before we realize it, it will be too late. Vietnam has already lost part of the Nam Quan Border Pass to China and much more. If we do not resist, we could lose our sovereignty once again. Not just for a few decades. Remember, in our history, we were under Chinese domination for 1,000 years”.