State Policies and the International Relations of Vietnamese Religious Organizations


The Constitutionand various laws, decrees, and resolutions of the State have clearly addressed the international relations of religious organizations, followers, and religious leaders as well as regarding the humanitarian activities of foreign religious organizations.

Article 3 of Order 234/SL dated 14 June 1955 stipulated: “Foreigners who are members of religious orders and who receive permission from the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam may preach, just like Vietnamese members of religious orders; they must abide by the laws of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, just like other foreigners". Article 6 of the Ordinance on Belief and Religion affirms the policy of the State of Vietnam: “Relations between the State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam and other States and international organizations regarding matters related to religion must be based on the principles of: Respect for each other’s independence and sovereignty; non-interference in each other’s internal affairs; equality; mutual benefit; conformity with each other’s laws; and conformity with international law and practice".

The State of Vietnam recognizes the need of foreigners in Vietnam to engage in their own activities of belief and religion while in Vietnam and helps them have peace of mind for their work, study, cooperation, and investment in Vietnam. In particular, there is a realistic effort to implement both appropriate religious policies and the State’s foreign policy of openness in the context of Reform and Renewal and international integration, with this spirit: Vietnam is ready to be a friend and reliable partner with countries in the international community, striving for peace, independence, and development.
2. International Relations of Vietnamese Religious Organizations
Vietnamese religious organizations, at various levels, all have certain international relations. Foreign affairs of religious organizations include: Exchanging delegations with foreign organizations; sending clerics and followers abroad to study; participating in conferences and workshops; joining international and regional religious conferences; hosting foreign religious delegations; and hosting international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), many of which are faith-based INGOs implementing humanitarian projects in Vietnam. Articles 34, 35, 36 and 37 of Chapter V, “International Relations of Religious Organizations, Followers, Religious, and Dignitaries", in the Ordinance on Belief and Religion state clearly the regulations related to international activities of religions, including the sending of people to take part in religious training overseas and preaching activities in Vietnam by foreign religious leaders and foreign members of religious orders.
In the course of Reform and Renewal, the international activities of religious organizations have grown and diversified, covering most localities and social sectors. Some activities have been solely religious, such as visits and participation in workshops and international and regional conferences on religious doctrine, rites, regulations, and religious lifestyles... In addition, some religious organizations have also taken part in social activities, have sponsored voluntary humanitarian and cultural work, and have provided direct assistance to those in need.
Most religious organizations in Vietnam have established relations with organizations in other countries:
Buddhism: During the process of Buddhism’s penetration and development, Buddhist followers in Vietnam established relations and exchanges with Buddhists in other countries and territories, including China, India, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, the former Soviet Union, Mongolia, France, Japan, the U.S, and Russia...
Vietnamese Buddhist groups, at various levels have taken part in regional and international activities of international organizations, including the Asian Buddhist Conference for Peace (ABCP) and the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB). The Vietnamese Buddhist groups have relations with and have organized exchanges with the Buddhist Association of China, the Buddhist Association of the former Soviet Union, the World Buddhist Summit Conference (WBS), World Buddhist Forum (WBF) and other international groups.
In May 2008, Vietnam successfully hosted the United Nations Day of Vesak, with participation of more than 4.000 delegates overseas and in Vietnam, from 70 countries and territories.
Catholicism: The Vietnamese Catholic Church has spiritual communication with the Vatican and has close relations with the Catholic Associations of France, the United States, the European Union, the Philippines, and South Korea. The Vietnamese Council of Bishops is a member of the Federation of Asian Bishops Conference (FABC). Many Vietnamese priests have been trained in Italy, France, and the Philippines. Every year, the Vietnamese Catholic Church sends bishops to Rome and to other countries to participate in religious activities organized by the Vatican or by other religious organizations.
Protestantism: Presently, Vietnam has two Protestant organizations, the Vietnamese Confederation of Evangelical Churches (Northern Church) and the Vietnamese General Confederation of Evangelical Churches (Southern Church) as well as some other Protestant denominations. Protestant groups in Vietnam have relations with their peers in the United States, South Korea, Singapore, Germany, and Northern Europe.
Recently, delegations from the Baptist World Alliance, Unites States Assemblies of God, Korean Presbyterian Church, United State's Adventist Church... paid a working visit to the respective Vietnam's denominations, and had very open exchanges with the Association and with other Protestant denominations that are in the process of registering with Vietnamese authorities.
Islam: The Islamic community in Vietnam has on-going and diverse relations with Islamic communities in Southeast Asia, and particularly with Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, with Islamic communities in Saudi Arabia and with the World Union of Islamic Organizations.
Cao đài religion: Although Cao đài is a domestic religion, it has recently established relations with some foreign religious organizations, such as Omoto "the Brothers and Love for World Community" of Japan (since 1935), and overseas Cao đài organizations.
Hòa Hảo Buddhism:Since Hòa Hảo Buddhism is a domestic religion, it does not have a system of international organizations like the other religions listed above. However, after the reunification of the country in 1975, some followers of Hòa Hảo Buddhism went to live abroad and have kept regular contact with followers in Vietnam.
Nowadays, many individuals and representatives of religious organizations visit Vietnam at the invitation of individuals and religious organizations inside the country. These delegations have not only worked with religious organizations but also met with representatives of the Government, with related Government agencies, and with local authorities to discuss issues of common concern. Among the most important groups are Vatican delegations, which come to Vietnam annually to discuss with the Government of Vietnam issues related to the Vietnamese Catholic Church in an effort to improve mutual understanding. Other important delegations include: The special rapporteurs of the United Nations on freedom of belief and religion; the U.S. President’s special envoys on international religious freedom; delegations from the United States Religious Freedom; commission on International Religious Freedom; and parliamentarians from Europe,..
During the last several years, religious organizations in Vietnam have taken part in many international and regional conferences organized by foreign religious organizations and by international organizations. In August 2000, a delegation of religious leaders from Vietnam participated in “The Millennium Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders” in the United States. Vietnamese delegates to the summit helped international friends better understand the policies of the State of Vietnam regarding religious issues.
From 9 to 20 May 2002 and from 8to 18 June 2004, delegations of representatives of the Government Committee for Religious Affairs and senior leaders of the Buddhist, Protestant, and Catholic movements visited the United States to discuss religious issues in Vietnam with concerned partners, in particular, with American politicians, leaders of the United Methodists Association, the American Protestant Association, the World Council of Churches, and with journalists in Washington, D.C. The visits were successful, left a favorable impression among American colleagues, and opened a new period of religious dialogue and mutual understanding between the two countries.
Other delegations of religious leaders have traveled to Bali (Indonesia), Cebu (the Philippines), and Cyprus for dialogues on human rights, religions and cooperation and harmony among religious groups.
These dialogues between religious leaders have created good opportunities for Vietnamese religious leaders to describe clearly Vietnam’s religious policies and their increased guarantees, and they have given them the chance to share experiences and lessons regarding knowledge and practice in their religions.
The international relations of religious organizations are growing and becoming more diverse. International exchanges between religious leaders are an indispensable need and an international practice. International relations of religious organizations in Vietnam are in line with this trend both with the view of meeting demands of religious associations and of harmonizing the common interests of the society and the country.
The Delegation of Vietnamese religious dignitaries who visited the United States in June 2004.
In general, the international relations of Vietnamese religious organizations are purely religion-based. However, some international relations conducted by religious organizations have been influenced by unfriendly forces consistently looking for ways to take advantage of and undermine Vietnam’s Reform and Renewal. Some people still keep disseminating erroneous information and untruthful stories about the situation of religion in Vietnam, including distortions of the State’s policies on religion and through international organizations, these individuals have put pressure on the Government and National Assembly of Vietnam with the aim of restricting Vietnam's foreign relations with other countries. Some individuals within the country have used the mantle of “religious freedom” to realize their own ambitions, to undermine social stability and national unity. Some individuals and organizations outside the country have taken advantage of these individuals for their own purposes to oppose and attack Vietnam and Vietnam’s international relations. However, since religious policies in Vietnam are open and transparent, the majority of individuals and international organizations have acknowledged that the State of Vietnam consistently guarantees its people’s right to freedom of belief and religion.
Recently, international activities of Vietnamese religious organizations have achieved remarkable results. They have not only helped religious organizations in Vietnam maintain normal relations and exchanges with regional and international religious organizations but have also reflected Vietnam’s policy of openness, which promotes people-to-people relations in order to contribute to the country’s construction and renewal. International affairs and relations of religious organizations in Vietnam have also helped clarify Vietnam’s policies on freedom of belief and religion and have mobilized material and spiritual assistance from the international community for the country’s construction and development.
The State of Vietnam affirms the right to follow or not to follow a belief, religion, as has been clearly stipulated in the law and guaranteed in practice. Each citizen is free to choose a belief or religion to follow, or not to follow any religion. Religious groups are free to operate in accordance with the laws of Vietnam provided their activities do not negatively affect community life, social unity, national security, or social order. Foreign visitors to Vietnam can easily see that followers practice religion freely and that large numbers of people take part in religious festivals and activities at religious establishments. This is clear evidence of Vietnam’s policies of respect for the freedom of belief and religion.
Through successive drafts and improvements, Vietnamese legislation is providing better guarantee for people’s right to freedom of belief and religion. The State of Vietnam constantly reviews, supplements, and systematically improves higher-level legal documents in order to guarantee that religious followers can operate in accordance with their religious philosophy, goals, dogmas, charters, and regulations. These legal documents conform to provisions on religious freedom in the International Conventions that Vietnam has signed or acceded to.