|05HANOI363||2005-02-16 09:32:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Hanoi|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000363
1. (SBU) Summary: According to a senior Evangelical Church
of Vietnam: North (ECVN) representative, the GVN has
provided new freedom to the Church, despite not yet having
released implementing regulations for the Ordinance on
Religion. Now that the GVN has permitted (after a 20-year
delay) the ECVN to hold its Congress and appoint a new
Management Board, obtaining GVN permission to build new
churches and train new leaders is the ECVN's top priority.
The Church would also like to see the Central Government
publicize the implementing regulations of the Ordinance on
Religion and publicly affirm the legitimacy of Protestant
practice. End Summary.
2. (SBU) Visiting NSC Senior Director for Asia Dr. Michael
J. Green met February 5 with Au Quang Vinh, Pastor of the
ECVN's Hanoi church, at the ECVN's headquarters in Hanoi.
Poloff accompanied. Vinh told Green that "Christian
followers" in Vietnam appreciate the policies and statements
of the United States regarding religious freedom in Vietnam.
In past years, Pastor Vinh said, "we have had many
difficulties." Recently, however, things have improved. In
particular, Vinh mentioned the December 2004 Congress of the
ECVN, the first such Congress in 20 years. "We told the
Government that we would only hold our Congress if they
respected our operating principles and allowed us to select
our own Management Board," Vinh explained. "Now they have
done so" (Ref. A).
3. (SBU) Now that the Management Board has been selected and
recognized, the main challenge is to increase the number of
pastors and churches, Vinh said. Vinh put the number of
Protestant believers in northern Vietnam as "more than
100,000" despite the fact that the ECVN has only 14 pastors
and churches. (Note: Most of these believers are ethnic
minorities in the Northwest Highlands. The ECVN has no
official churches in that region, but remains in contact
with many house churches. End note.) "In the coming
period," Vinh said, "we will ask the Government for
permission to open a school to train pastors and will also
request that the Government recognize ECVN congregations in
border provinces so that they can carry out normal
activities." The biggest obstacle to normal church
activities is "local authorities who do not understand the
religious beliefs and practices of followers." Vinh also
said he wants to improve the condition of existing churches.
4. (SBU) To serve adequately the existing number of
followers, the ECVN needs 1,000 new churches, Vinh stated.
Construction of new churches "can be very difficult," he
acknowledged, citing as an example the ECVN's efforts to
build a newer, bigger church in Hanoi on existing land.
This effort has been hampered by the Hanoi city government,
based on the ECVN's lack of a certificate of land use rights
to back its claim that the land the church sits on was given
to the ECVN by the Christian and Missionary Alliance in
1954, Vinh said. (Note: The certificate of land use rights
acts like a land title or deed in Vietnam. It is nearly
impossible to get permission to improve a property in
Vietnam when the ownership is not adequately documented.
5. (SBU) Vinh acknowledged "a number of new and better
points" in the Ordinance on Religion (Ref. B), although he
noted that since the Ordinance's release in November 2004
there has so far been no implementation decree. A key
factor in the Ordinance's effectiveness will be the degree
to which local authorities understand and abide by it. "In
many areas," Vinh complained, "local authorities act as if
they have no knowledge of the law or regulations." The
ECVN's plan is to "carry out the law of Vietnam through the
Commission on Religious Affairs and ask the Commission to
respect our legitimate demands and understand that we do not
want armed struggle." All the ECVN needs to construct its
churches is permission, Vinh said. "Protestants all over
the world will support us."
6. (SBU) The implementing regulations of the new Ordinance
on Religion will be the crucial factor in assessing whether
the Ordinance is useful or not, Vinh continued. "In
Vietnam, the law opens a large door but the implementing
regulations close a smaller one," he explained. The
implementing regulations will determine how local
authorities understand and comply with the law. The Central
Government can assist by making it known that Protestantism
is lawful and formally recognized. (Note: As reported in
Reftel C, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai issued on February 4
(but did not publicize until February 16) an Instruction to
guide Ministries and People's Committees in their relations
with Protestant churches and believers. The document
directs authorities to assist Protestant followers in
celebrating their faith, including by opening churches,
registering pastors and allowing denominations operating
since 1975 to register their religious practice, even if
they do not yet meet all criteria for official recognition.
End Note.) "In many local areas, it is thought that
Protestantism is the United States, and the United States is
the enemy," Vinh said. "All we want is fair treatment for
Protestantism like any other religion in Vietnam." The
ECVN's new Managing Board plans to test the waters by
"asking for permission to open a training center for pastors
this summer." In a "few days," the ECVN will submit a plan
to the Committee on Religious Affairs concerning the work of
their church, including the issues of church construction,
training of religious workers and the opening of bible
schools. So far, Vinh said, the religious freedom changes
in Vietnam have been good for his church. There are new
pastors in Lang Son Province and Hai Phong City, and the GVN
gave the ECVN permission to hold a Congress, elect leaders
and establish a work plan. Vinh added that he believes that
this progress has come about as a result of USG pressure on
the GVN, and that in the future the two sides should
establish visits and exchanges to improve bilateral
relations and religious freedom.
7. (SBU) Comment: Pastor Vinh was distinctly upbeat during
this meeting. In the past, he has been guardedly positive
about religious freedom, but full of frustration about the
conduct of authorities. This time, he seemed to be looking
forward to the GVN's implementing positive changes, possibly
because of the success of the EVCN Congress in December and
the new vigor it has given the church after 20 years of
delays. End Comment.
8. (U) Dr. Green has cleared this message.