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Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do: Democracy alone can protect Vietnamese sovereignty from Chinese encroachment

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PARIS, 31 October 2011 (IBIB) – The International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris has received an Open Letter from the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, prominent dissident and leader of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) to Vietnamese Communist Party Secretary-general Nguyen Phu Trong. The letter denounced the lack of transparency in the Vietnam-China settlement of land and sea disputes during Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to China from 11-15 October 2011. The UBCV leader, 83, said the only true solution lay in a democratic process in which the whole population could take part. The letter was sent by registered post on 21.10.2011 from Thanh Minh Thien Vien in Saigon, where he is currently under de facto house arrest.

Thich Quang Do addresses farmers demonstrating in Ho Chi Minh City against power abuse and state appropriation of lands (Saigon, 17 July 2007).  
Thich Quang Do addresses farmers demonstrating in Ho Chi Minh City against power abuse and state appropriation of lands (Saigon, 17 July 2007).

Thich Quang Do explained that he addressed the letter to the VCP Secretary-general rather than the President or Prime Minister in order to save time, because: “Vietnam is not a democratic country. The Communist Party holds the reins of power, and routinely pre-empts the government’s authority”. He called on Nguyen Phu Trong to clarify the joint Vietnam-China statement issued together with Chinese Communist Party Secretary-general and President Hu Jintao on the “Basic principles guiding the settlement of sea issues” at the conclusion of Nguyen Phu Trong’s visit to China. Thich Quang Do considered the agreement to be a serious withdrawal from the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea” (DOC) signed between China and ASEAN in 2002, aimed at building a “Code of Conduct of Parties in the East Sea” (COC) for all parties involved.

“The whole Vietnamese population was waiting to hear what proposals you made in Beijing to impede China’s encroachment on our seas and islands, such as the drawing up of a 9-dash map, or “U-shaped line”, the invasion of the Paracel and Spratly islands, the aggressive assault on Vietnamese ships Binh Minh and Viking conducting seismic surveys in our own territorial waters, the arrest and murder of Vietnamese fishermen in the East Sea. All these are burning issues that prompted thousands of youths, students, intellectuals and prominent personalities to stage protests in Hanoi and Saigon over the past three months”. Following a sharp police crack-down in August 2011, “these exuberant demonstrations, with banners and shouting of slogans, have been reduced to mute protests” wrote Thich Quang Do. But they continue, he said, “like demonstrations of the dumb”.

“But you proposed nothing”, wrote Thich Quang Do. The 6-point joint statement simply outlined general principles, he said, without addressing pressing sea and land disputes and China’s continuing incursions not only on territories claimed by Vietnam but also the Philippines, Malaysia and other countries in the region. He cited the meeting of ASEAN countries Bali on 19-23.7.2011 to seek regional strategies and consensus on the East Sea issue.

“In the past, our forefathers were forced to pay tribute to their Chinese over-lords. But this was a policy of skilful diplomacy, aimed at preserving our nation’s sovereignty. Nowadays, ever since the Vietnamese Communist Party was born in the land of Mao, our leaders have never ceased kow-towing to Beijing and following the CCP’s orders” regardless of Vietnam’s sovereign interests.

The VCP may control the country and the government, he declared, but it cannot decide on uur national sovereignty alone. “National sovereignty concerns the whole population, irrespective of their religious or political beliefs. From the times of the two Trung sisters, when many Buddhist women generals and military leaders fought against foreign aggression, through to the dynasties of the Dinh, Le, Ly, Tran and Le, our ancestors always struggled to safeguard our nation, sometimes by diplomacy and sometimes by military force. But they never resorted to “diplomatic notes” or shameful agreements that led to selling off Vietnamese lands, waters and islands to China as we see today under the dynasty of Ho Chi Minh”.

Thich Quang Do cited two examples of the VCP’s submission to China: the 1954 Conference in Liuzhou, where the delegation led by Ho Chi Minh accepted China’s conditions, dictated by Zhou Enlai, on the partitioning of Vietnam under the Geneva Agreement; the Chengdu Conference in September 1990 where a high-level Vietnamese delegation led by Pham Van Dong and Vo Nguyen Giap suffered humiliating treatment yet returned to execute Li Peng’s orders, having failed to defend the interests of Vietnam.

The UBCV leader called on Nguyen Phu Trong to inform the Vietnamese people of the VCP’s policies and give details of its agreement with China on the Spratly and Paracel islands, the sea and land borders, the fate of Vietnamese fishermen, and the demarcation of a “U-shaped line” which he described as “a broom which China will use to sweep the whole East Sea, over 2 million square kilometers, into its own borders”.

“The Vietnamese people need to know, so that they determine their own future and find ways to protect their homeland. Faced with China’s ambitions and expansionist policies, what does the Vietnamese Communist Party plan to do?”

Specifically, Thich Quang Do asked why the VCP had made no attempts to bring the sea border dispute before the United Nations under the 1982 UNCLOS Convention; why the VCP did not press for a multilateral solution to the East Sea disputes instead of the bilateral settlements demanded by Beijing; or why Vietnam did not unite with other ASEAN countries to counterbalance Chinese encroachment?

But in the long run, Thich Quang Do told the VCP Secretary-general, there is only one effective solution to stem Chinese expansionism – that of democracy in Vietnam.

“The VCP and the government cannot breathe forever through China’s nostrils. The only way to avoid this is by initiating a peaceful transition to democracy, so that our country can breathe through the nostrils of the almost 90-million strong population of Vietnam.”

“But first and foremost”, he urged Nguyen Phu Trong, “you must make the contents of your agreement with Beijing completely clear so that the Vietnamese people, including the Buddhist community, can make their own decision on what steps they must take”.

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