Deeply disturbed by increasing Chinese incursions on Vietnamese waters and lands, Venerable Thich Quang Do is calling for a nationwide demonstration on Sunday July 1st to protest Chinese expansionism and press the Hanoi government to take a firm stand to protect Vietnam’s national integrity. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam leader and 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee is under de facto house arrest at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, and sent his urgent communication clandestinely from there to the International Buddhist Information Bureau.
His appeal is prompted by the recent invitation by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation for international bids on nine oil and gas lots which are situated deep inside Vietnam’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf. Intensified exploration for offshore oil and gas has increased tensions recently. The latest conflicts began on May 26 when three Chinese patrol boats reportedly halted a seismic survey in waters claimed by Vietnam as part of its exclusive economic zone.
At the same time, the Chinese media has launched a series of threats against Vietnam, demanding that the National Assembly “rectify its errors” by repealing the recently-adopted Law of the Sea which affirms Vietnamese sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly islands.
For Thich Quang Do, 84, this is just the last in a series of increasingly brazen violations of Vietnamese sovereignty by its northern neighbor. He was amongst the first to alert international opinion to the grave dangers of Chinese expansionism in Vietnam, such as environmental and security threats caused by the influx of thousands of Chinese workers to mine bauxite in the Central highlands in 2007; Hanoi’s 50-year leasing to China of forest regions along the northern Vietnamese borders; and the capture and killings of Vietnamese fishermen in China’s moves to appropriate the Paracel and Spratly islands.
Faced with the inconsistent and irresolute attitude of the Hanoi authorities, Thich Quang Do launched the following appeal: “Recognizing the danger of a new Chinese domination of our homeland, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam calls upon all Vietnamese at home and abroad, irrespective of opinion, religion, gender or age, to stage demonstrations on 1st July 2012 in order to denounce Chinese incursions and protect the sovereignty of our nation.”
He addressed his appeal to all religious leaders, intellectuals, members of political parties, youth movements, students, young people and all Vietnamese at home and abroad, and said that “China has blatantly and brazenly violated our sovereignty. Yet the Vietnamese authorities, caught up in their pledges of friendship and the Chinese motto of “16 golden words and 4 rules of good relationship”, have not clearly distinguished between friend and foe. So far, their protests have been formal and feeble, only helping to stimulate China’s momentum in encroaching even further into our waters and lands with total impunity.”
Thich Quang Do is a leading advocate of religious freedom, human rights and democracy. He has won worldwide recognition for his non-violent combat for freedom in Vietnam. His refusal to be silenced by intimidation, imprisonment and internal exile for almost three decades has inspired Vietnamese of all generations and helped them to overcome fear. Thich Quang Do is the first person to forge links of solidarity between dissidents from the north and south, thus bridging a decades-long geographical and ideological divide.
Thich Quang Do’s vision of democracy extends far beyond Vietnam’s frontiers. He believes in a peaceful and democratic Vietnam that will help engender peace and stability in Asia and the world, which he believes can be achieved through solidarity and cooperation. In July 2007, he broke out of house arrest to speak at a demonstration of farmers and peasants protesting official corruption and State confiscation of lands. This was the first time in 26 years he had addressed a crowd in public. It was also the first time in Communist Vietnam that such a prominent dissident had spoken out publicly for democracy and human rights.
He was interviewed in secret for the Oslo Freedom Forum in 2010 at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Ho Chi Mihn City, where he is under house arrest. Thor Halvorssen, founder of the Oslo Freedom Forum and Kristopher Anderson, film director for the forum, traveled to Vietnam at great risk to interview him. After conducting the interview, Halvorssen was detained for hours by plainclothes security agents standing guard outside the monastery.
“Venerable Thich Quang Do’s story is one of peaceful struggle for freedom in the face of brutal state repression,” stated Halvorssen. “Freedom of speech is banned in Vietnam; civil society groups are forced to operate within the confines of government structures; trade unions are not free; and anyone who calls for human rights or democracy risks immediate arrest, usually for ‘infringing on national security.’ Hundreds of political and religious dissidents are in prison, where there is evidence of torture,” continued Halvorssen.
In this compelling video, The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do speaks about his peaceful fight for freedom and democracy under the repressive communist government of Vietnam: