Hanoi (AsiaNews) - The fourth meeting of the Joint Vietnam-Holy See Working Group began this morning in Rome as part of ongoing talks between the Vatican and Hanoi to establish full diplomatic relations between the two sides. The Vietnamese delegation is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn, who will meet Under-Secretary for Relations with States Mgr Antonio Camilleri, who heads the Vatican team.
The third meeting was held in February 2012, in Hanoi, where it was decided that the next conference would take place in the Vatican. Progress in bilateral relations is expected at this venue, even problems connected to religious freedom persist in the Asian country.
In recent months in fact, Vietnamese authorities have cracked down on activists, including Catholics, fighting for the greater democratisation of the nation, respect for property rights against forced evictions (also of Church assets), and amendments to the Constitution.
Precisely on the issue of constitutional reform, Communist leaders and the seven million-strong Catholic community led by the Bishops' Council are at loggerheads. The bishops have in fact come out in favour of changes to the nation's charter that would establish a multi-party democracy.
A significant step was taken on 1 March of this year when the prelates sent the authorities a report with "sincere suggestions" on how the nation should evolve. And Catholics have rallied around their bishops to support their efforts because they are key to real change.
As a Vietnamese Catholic journalist put it, the bishops' opinions are "precise and concise".
Critics note however that the government wants closer relations with the Vatican to gain its support, and that of the international community, for its development goals.
For some, the relationship between Hanoi and the Vatican could even become a model for relations between China and the Holy See. However, if religious freedom and human rights are not included, discussions on fundamental values and principles are impossible.