Viewing cable 01HOCHIMINHCITY1272
Title: RELIGIOUS GROUPS AVOID CONFRONTATION IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS PROVINCE

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01HOCHIMINHCITY12722001-11-13 08:26:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Ho Chi Minh City
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130826Z Nov 01

2001HOCHI01272 - UNCLASSIFIED
 
 
 
                           UNCLASSIFIED     PTQ0471

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FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5686
INFO AMEMBASSY HANOI 
DIA WASHDC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 001272 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, EAP/EX AND EAP/PD 
DEPARTMENT ALSO FOR DRL/IRF, DRL/BA, PRM AND INR/EAP/SEA 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM KIRF PGOV PREL PINR VM ETMIN HUMANR RELFREE
SUBJECT: RELIGIOUS GROUPS AVOID CONFRONTATION IN CENTRAL HIGHLANDS PROVINCE 
 
 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
PAGE 02        HO CHI  01272  01 OF 03  130924Z 
REF: A) HCMC 874, B) HANOI 1250, C) HCMC 658 
 
1.(SBU) SUMMARY:  ON A TRIP TO LAM DONG PROVINCE, DPO AND 
CONOFF VISITED A MAHAYANA BUDDHIST CONVENT, A ZEN BUDDHIST 
MONASTERY AND THE DALAT CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL TO INVESTIGATE 
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ISSUES IN THIS ETHNICALLY AND RELIGIOUSLY 
DIVERSE CENTRAL HIGHLAND PROVINCE.  VIETNAMESE INDIVIDUALS 
ARE FREE TO WORSHIP AND PRACTICE THEIR RELIGION OPENLY IN 
LAM DONG PROVINCE, ACCORDING TO ALL THREE GROUPS.  HOWEVER, 
GOVERNMENT CONTROLS REMAIN ON RELIGIOUS ADMINISTRATION AND 
ORGANIZATION.  MANY BUDDHISTS IN LAM DONG APPEAR TO BE 
AVOIDING POLITICS ALTOGETHER, AND MAKE A CLEAR DISTINCTION 
BETWEEN RELIGION AND POLITICAL ACTIVITY.  CATHOLICS IN LAM 
DONG APPEAR TO BELIEVE THE CHURCH HAS AN APPROPRIATE ROLE TO 
PLAY IN INFLUENCING POLITICS, BUT THAT ROLE SHOULD BE 
DISCREET AND NON-CONFRONTATIONAL.  PLEASE PROTECT ALL 
SOURCES ON SENSITIVE COMMENTS.  END SUMMARY. 
 
BUDDHIST NUNS FOCUS ON PRAYER NOT POLITICS 
------------------------------------------ 
 
2.(SBU) THE "SU NU BUDDHIST CONVENT" IN DALAT IS THE PRIMARY 
BUDDHIST CONVENT IN LAM DONG PROVINCE.  OF THE ROUGHLY 300 
BUDDHIST NUNS IN DALAT, 40 RESIDE AT SU NU CONVENT.  THE 
CONVENT IS OPEN TO BUDDHIST WOMEN OF ALL AGES AND ETHNIC 
BACKGROUNDS, ALTHOUGH THERE ARE CURRENTLY NO ETHNIC MINORITY 
NUNS AT THE CONVENT AND ONLY A FEW IN DALAT AS A WHOLE. 
(NOTE:  NUNS THERE INDICATED ETHNIC MINORITIES IN THE 
PROVINCE, AS ELSEWHERE IN VIETNAM, ARE OFTEN EITHER CATHOLIC 
OR PROTESTANT).  UPON ENTRY INTO THE CONVENT, BUDDHIST NUNS 
UNDERGO RIGOROUS TRAINING IN BUDDHIST TEACHINGS AND 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
PAGE 03        HO CHI  01272  01 OF 03  130924Z 
SCRIPTURE.  TYPICALLY, A BUDDHIST NUN REACHES SENIOR RANKS 
WITHIN THE CHURCH AFTER 8-10 YEARS OF STUDY AND TRAINING. 
THE CONVENT PAYS ONLY A PORTION OF TOTAL TRAINING COSTS AND 
RECEIVES NO GOVERNMENT FUNDING OR SUPPORT. 
 
3.(SBU) WHEN ASKED BY CONOFFS ABOUT THE OFFICIAL DISTINCTION 
BETWEEN THE UNIFIED BUDDHIST CHURCH OF VIETNAM (UBCV) AND 
THE VIETNAM BUDDHIST CHURCH (VBC), BUDDHIST NUNS AT THE 
CONVENT SAID THAT, IN THEIR OPINION, VIETNAMESE BUDDHISTS 
ARE ALL "BUDDHIST BROTHERS AND SISTERS" AND THAT THEY SEE NO 
DISTINCTION BETWEEN FOLLOWERS OF THE UBCV AND THE VBC.  THEY 
ADDED THAT THE GVN RECOGNIZES OFFICIALLY ONLY THE VBC, 
NOTING THAT LEADERS OF THE UBCV DO NOT RECOGNIZE GVN CONTROL 
OVER THE CHURCH'S ACTIVITIES.  THE NUNS OFFERED NO 
PARTICULAR OPINIONS ABOUT GVN POLICY TOWARDS THE UBCV BUT 
SAID THAT SOME RELIGIOUS GROUPS, ESPECIALLY PROTESTANTS, 
HAVE "PROBLEMS" WITH THE GOVERNMENT BECAUSE THEY BECOME "TOO 
POLITICALLY INVOLVED."  THE NUNS SAID LOCAL AUTHORITIES 
ROUTINELY REVIEW THEIR PUBLIC ACTIVITIES, FOR EXAMPLE, 
REQUIRING PRIOR PERMISSION FOR MEETINGS OUTSIDE THE CONVENT. 
HOWEVER, THEY SAID THERE HAVE NOT BEEN RESTRICTIONS ON THE 
DAY-TO-DAY WORSHIP OF THEIR FAITH WITHIN THE CONVENT, WHICH 
IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THEM THAN POLITICAL ACTIVISM. 
 
GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS SERVE TO CONTROL CHURCH GROWTH 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 
 
4.(SBU) CATHOLICS IN LAM DONG PROVINCE ARE FREE TO WORSHIP 
AND PRACTICE THEIR RELIGION WITHOUT INTERFERENCE.  FATHER VO 
DUC MINH, RECTOR OF DALAT CATHOLIC CATHEDRAL AND CHIEF 
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE DALAT DIOCESE, TOLD CONOFFS THAT A 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
PAGE 04        HO CHI  01272  01 OF 03  130924Z 
TOTAL OF ABOUT 500 VIETNAMESE CATHOLICS ATTEND THE TWO 
MASSES HELD AT THE CATHEDRAL DAILY, WHILE A TOTAL OF ABOUT 
5000 ATTEND THE FIVE MASSES HELD EVERY SUNDAY. HE CLAIMED 
THERE ARE ROUGHLY 250,000 CATHOLICS IN THE PROVINCE, ABOUT 
25 PERCENT OF THE TOTAL POPULATION OF ABOUT 1.2 MILLION.  HE 
SAID MOST ETHNIC MINORITIES IN LAM DONG PROVINCE (OUT OF A 
TOTAL MINORITY POPULATION ESTIMATED AT 125,000) ARE 
CATHOLIC. 
 
5.(SBU) FATHER MINH SAID CATHOLIC CHILDREN, BOTH VIETNAMESE 
AND ETHNIC MINORITY, CAN LEARN THE CATHOLIC FAITH AND ARE 
FREE TO STUDY THE BIBLE.  HE EXPLAINED THERE IS VERY LITTLE, 
IF ANY, GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE IN THE DAY-TO-DAY WORSHIP OR 
RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES OF ORDINARY CATHOLIC CITIZENS.  HE ALSO 
SAID THERE IS LITTLE DISCRIMINATION IN DAILY LIFE FOR 
ORDINARY BELIEVERS, ALTHOUGH CATHOLICS DO NOT USUALLY REACH 
THE VERY TOP LEVELS, WHICH ARE CONTROLLED BY THE COMMUNIST 
PARTY.  MINH SAID THE BIGGEST PROBLEMS BETWEEN THE CATHOLIC 
CHURCH AND THE GVN ARE ADMINISTRATIVE AND ORGANIZATIONAL IN 
NATURE.  FOR EXAMPLE, THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN DALAT (AS 
ELSEWHERE IN VIETNAM) CONTROLS THE TOTAL NUMBER OF 
SEMINARIANS AND THE NUMBER OF NEW PRIESTS THAT CAN BE 
ORDAINED.  ALSO, THE GOVERNMENT IMPOSES RESTRICTIONS ON THE 
MOVEMENT OF CLERGY, APPOINTMENT OF BISHOPS AND OTHER 
ADMINISTRATIVE FUNCTIONS OF THE CHURCH.  ACCORDING TO FATHER 
MINH, THESE ARE SMALL "ANNOYANCES" BUT THEY ADD UP OVER TIME 
LIKE "DROPS OF WATER" AND SERVE TO RESTRAIN THE CHURCH'S 
GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT. 
 
LAM DONG CATHOLIC CHURCH "DISCREET" IN ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH 
LOCAL AUTHORITIES 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 
 
6.(SBU) LAM DONG PROVINCE AVOIDED THE ETHNIC MINORITY 
DISTURBANCES THAT TOOK PLACE EARLIER THIS YEAR IN DAKLAK AND 
GIA LAI PROVINCES (REFTEL A), ALSO IN THE CENTRAL HIGHLANDS. 
FATHER MINH SAID THIS WAS, IN PART, DUE TO THE MORE ACTIVE 
EFFORTS OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN LAM DONG TO ASSIST ETHNIC 
MINORITIES.  HE SAID CATHOLIC CLERGY IN LAM DONG VISIT 
ETHNIC MINORITY COMMUNITIES REGULARLY BUT "DISCREETLY" TO 
PREACH THEIR FAITH AND PERFORM CATHOLIC SERVICES.  HE ALSO 
SAID THAT THE LAM DONG CATHOLIC CHURCH IS MORE COOPERATIVE 
AND LESS "ANTAGONISTIC" IN ITS DEALINGS WITH LOCAL 
AUTHORITIES THAN THE CHURCH IN OTHER PROVINCES, ALTHOUGH HE 
STRESSED HE DID NOT WANT TO CRITICIZE THE ACTIVITIES OF 
VIETNAMESE CHURCH LEADERS ELSEWHERE.  HE SAID THE CATHOLIC 
CHURCH ADVOCATES REFORMS IN LAM DONG, BUT DOES SO IN A NON- 
CONFRONTATIONAL MANNER, AND THERE HAS BEEN GRADUAL PROGRESS 
WITH THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT ON A VARIETY OF ISSUES (SUCH AS 
THE APPOINTMENT OF BISHOPS). 
 
7.(SBU) FATHER MINH CONTRASTED THIS A BIT WITH THE 
PROTESTANT COMMUNITY, WHICH HE FINDS MORE CONFRONTATIONAL. 
HE MENTIONED THAT MANY PROTESTANT PASTORS AND LAY PEOPLE 
LEFT VIETNAM AFTER 1975, WHILE MOST CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND 
CLERGY IN LAM DONG REMAINED TO SERVE THEIR COMMUNITIES. 
THIS LEFT MANY PROTESTANT BELIEVERS "LIKE LOST SHEEP WITHOUT 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
PAGE 03        HO CHI  01272  02 OF 03  130925Z 
A SHEPHERD," HE CLAIMED, AND THEY HAVE OVER TIME TAKEN A 
MORE ACTIVIST APPROACH TOWARDS DIFFERENCES WITH THE 
GOVERNMENT.  MINH, SPEAKING PERSONALLY, SAID HE FINDS THIS 
STYLE COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE.  HE ADDED, HOWEVER, THAT IT IS 
VERY HARD NOT TO BE ANGRY WITH GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN VIEW 
OF THE SERIOUS SUFFERING UNDERGONE BY MANY CATHOLICS AND 
PROTESTANTS IN THE PERIOD AFTER 1975, NOTING THE SITUATION 
HAD IMPROVED SIGNIFICANTLY BY THE EARLY 1990'S. 
 
8.(SBU) NOTE:  WHILE FATHER MINH AND, IN A SEPARATE 
CONVERSATION, THE PROVINCIAL GOVERNMENT BOTH TAKE CREDIT FOR 
THE LACK OF ETHNIC MINORITY PROTESTS IN LAM DONG EARLIER 
THIS YEAR, THE COMPLEX SITUATION FACING ETHNIC MINORITIES IN 
THE PROVINCE DEFIES SIMPLE POLITICAL OR RELIGIOUS 
EXPLANATIONS.  AS NOTED IN REF A, THE ISSUES SURROUNDING 
CENTRAL HIGHLANDS' UNREST INCLUDE A WIDE VARIETY OF FACTORS, 
INTER ALIA, MIGRATION, LAND DISPUTES, DISCRIMINATION, 
ECONOMIC INEQUALITIES, RELIGIOUS DIFFERENCES, EDUCATION 
ISSUES AND OUTSIDE INFLUENCES.  FATHER MINH EMPHASIZES THE 
CHURCH'S EFFORTS AT QUIET DIPLOMACY.  PROVINCIAL AUTHORITIES 
STRESS THEIR ONGOING COMMITMENT TO EDUCATIONAL AND OTHER 
DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR ETHNIC MINORITIES.  BOTH ARE 
PROBABLY PART OF THE PUZZLE, BUT EVEN TAKEN TOGETHER THEY DO 
NOT SEEM ENOUGH TO EXPLAIN WHY LAM DONG HAS BEEN DIFFERENT 
FROM OTHER CENTRAL HIGHLAND PROVINCES.  END NOTE. 
 
WEALTHY ZEN MONASTERY WITH VISIBLE "VIET-KIEU" CONNECTIONS 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
 
9.(SBU) THE DALAT "TRUC LAM ZEN INSTITUTION" WAS ESTABLISHED 
IN 1994 ABOUT 6 KM FROM DALAT CITY AND NOW REPRESENTS THE 
                       UNCLASSIFIED 
 
PAGE 04        HO CHI  01272  02 OF 03  130925Z 
LARGEST ZEN COMMUNITY IN VIETNAM (A MINORITY OF BUDDHISTS IN 
VIETNAM PRACTICE ZEN ALTHOUGH CONOFFS COULD NOT OBTAIN 
SPECIFIC FIGURES).  MASTER THICH THANH TU, CHIEF OF THE ZEN 
INSTITUTE, HAS ESTABLISHED NINE OTHER ZEN MEDITATION CENTERS 
THROUGHOUT VIETNAM.  ONE HUNDRED FIFTY ZEN BUDDHISTS, OF 
WHICH EIGHTY ARE MEN, RESIDE AND PRACTICE AT THE INSTITUTE 
NEAR DALAT.  THE INSTITUTE ALSO TEACHES FOLLOWERS AND 
STUDENTS ZEN MEDITATION AND PHILOSOPHY.  VISITORS, INCLUDING 
FOREIGNERS, ARE ALLOWED TO STUDY AT THE INSTITUTE, BUT THE 
LOCAL GOVERNMENT PROHIBITS FOREIGNERS FROM SPENDING THE 
NIGHT ON INSTITUTE GROUNDS.  FOREIGNERS MUST RETURN TO DALAT 
AFTER BUSINESS HOURS ALTHOUGH THEY CAN VISIT THE INSTITUTE 
AS OFTEN AS THEY LIKE. 
 
10.(SBU) THE INSTITUTE RECEIVES NO GOVERNMENT FUNDING AND 
ALL FUNDS ARE RAISED THROUGH PRIVATE DONATIONS BOTH 
DOMESTICALLY AND ABROAD.  THE NAMES OF PRIVATE DONORS THAT 
CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY TO THE INSTITUTE ARE PAINTED ON 
CONCRETE BENCHES, WHICH DOT THE INSTITUTE'S MANICURED 
GROUNDS.  CONOFFS NOTICED THAT MOST OF THESE BENCHES BEAR 
THE NAMES OF AMERICAN "VIET-KIEU" (OVERSEAS VIETNAMESE) 
DONORS.  CONOFFS WERE TOLD MASTER THICH THANH TU WAS 
VISITING THE INSTITUTE'S SAN DIEGO BRANCH (DAI DAC 
MONASTERY).  ASKED ABOUT GOVERNMENT RESTRICTIONS, ONE OF THE 
MONKS INDICATED ZEN BUDDHISTS ARE FREE TO WORSHIP THEIR 
RELIGION AND ARE NOT RESTRICTED BY THE GOVERNMENT, UNLESS 
THEY ARE "INVOLVED IN POLITICS."  HE IMPLIED SUCH ACTIVISM 
WAS NOT THE ROLE OF THE BUDDHIST CHURCH IN LAM DONG. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
11.(SBU) IT IS DIFFICULT TO GENERALIZE FROM THE HANDFUL OF 
RELIGIOUS LEADERS WE MET IN DALAT.  THE BUDDHISTS WE 
CONTACTED IN LAM DONG APPEAR TO BE TAKING A HANDS-OFF 
APPROACH TO POLITICS BY FOCUSING PRIMARILY ON PRACTICING 
THEIR FAITH AND AVOIDING DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN POLITICAL 
ACTIVITIES.  FATHER MINH SEES A CLEAR ROLE FOR THE CHURCH IN 
INFLUENCING GRADUAL REFORM THROUGH DISCREET AND NON- 
CONFRONTATIONAL EFFORTS.  A COMMON THEME HERE -- WE HAVE 
ALSO HEARD ELSEWHERE -- IS ONE OF RELATIVE FREEDOM FOR 
RELIGIOUS WORSHIP AT THE INDIVIDUAL LEVEL.  RESTRICTIONS 
OCCUR AT THE INSTITUTIONAL LEVEL AND INCREASE AS THE GVN 
COMES TO VIEW RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES AS MORE ORGANIZED, MORE 
PUBLIC AND ESPECIALLY MORE POLITICAL. 
 
YAMAUCHI 
 
                       UNCLASSIFIED