Interview with Le Minh Phieu - Vietnamese Olympic torch bearer

Le Minh Phieu is one of the 6 Vietnamese selected to carry the Olympic torch when it passes through Ho Chi Minh City on 29 April 2008. Recently, Phieu wrote a letter to the IOC President about China's violation of Olympic rules by wrongly claiming ownership over the Paracel Islands which it seized from Vietnam in its torch relay maps. On 9 April 2008, Phieu was interviewed by DCVOnline. Following is the content of the interview:

By DCVOnline (translated by Le Duc)

9 April 2008 in France

DCVOnline: Hello Le Minh Phieu, first, can you please tell us what motivated you to enter the contest “Looking for torch bearers for the Beijing Olympics 2008” sponsored by Samsung?

Le Minh Phieu: This project was initiated quite some time ago, since August 2007. At that time, a close friend knew of this contest, and he said that he would write an essay nominating me.

Knowing that the Olympic torch – a symbol of noble spirit, peace, and unity among the nations – making its way to Vietnam for the first time, I agreed to the idea. I was somewhat uneasy at that time. Honestly, I wondered whether I was suitable to carry the torch.

I also want to add that the situation was not very tense at that time. There wasn’t news about the establishment of Sansha. The Tibetan situation also wasn’t complex as it is now.

DCVOnline: After Samsung announced the results in which you were one of 6 nominees chosen to carry the Olympic 2008 torch in Ho Chi Minh City, has your application officially approved by the Vietnamese Olympic Committee yet?

Le Minh Phieu: I don’t know the concrete details of the selection process. When I received the official result, it is also the result that has been approved by all the agencies, including the Beijing Olympics 2008 Committee.

DCVOnline: When did you receive this result?

Le Minh Phieu: On 21 February 2008 at 11:01:53 AM, according to the announcement of Samsung.

According to the news by the Beijing Olympic Committee, the list of all the people participating in the torch relay in Vietnam will be sent to the Beijing Olympic Committee for examination before being officially announced. It was to be announced at the end of December 2007. This means that the news above was announced after being approved by all the agencies.

DCVOnline: Have you found out which part of the relay route will you be carrying the torch?

Le Minh Phieu: Not yet.

DCVOnline: On 7 April when the Olympic torch was going through Paris, what were you doing, and where were you?

Le Minh Phieu: At that time I was at the post office sending the letter to the IOC President and posting it on my blog.

DCVOnline: If on 29 April everything proceeds according to plan without changes, will you be participating in the torch relay or standing among the protestors?

Le Minh Phieu: I will participate in the relay. I was chosen to hold the torch, which means to honor the noble spirit, honor peace and unity among the nations of the world; therefore, I have to fulfill my responsibility. I cannot let down those who selected me. The reason I wrote the letter is also because of that reason: to honor and protect the noble values of the Olympics.

DCVOnline: So even if China does not care for the letter you sent to the IOC president, you will still participate in the torch relay?

Le Minh Phieu: I am a law student. I have to take actions as a person in this field. China’s action is a violation of the Olympic rules. I have called for this violation to stop. However, supposing China does not make amends, then we will have to find other ways.

I had promised to hold the torch in October, before the result was officially announced. Therefore, if I refuse now, it means that I will violate my own promise. The violation of a law is not the legal way to counter against another illegal action. Moreover, in any way, the Olympic torch belongs to the world; it is not China’s. It symbolizes goodness. If someone does something to take away that goodness, then we have to ask them to bring it back. We should not make that goodness be lost when someone else dirties it.

Moreover, I will carry the torch to affirm with the world that “even though we are not the host of the Olympics, the Vietnamese also have a noble spirit.” Therefore, as the host of the Olympics – the symbol of noble spirit – China should truly display that noble spirit.

DCVOnline: You just said that “before the results being officially announced,” what result is that?

Le Minh Phieu: That is the day in which I was selected to the final rounds (12 people in the final, 3 to be chosen). The Samsung organizers sent me a form to sign and I signed it. This took place in October 2007.

DCVOnline: A person name Pham V.H. wrote an article calling for Vietnamese to demonstrate against the torch on 29 April when it passes through Vietnam. What do you think of this call?

Le Minh Phieu: In my opinion, politics should be separated from sports. We need to give purity back to sports. That is also the spirit that I wrote to the IOC president about.

DCVOnline: What are your thinking on the activities of the Tibetans in and outside China protesting against territorial invasion, cultural genocide, and oppression and killing of Tibetans by the Chinese government?

Le Minh Phieu: I am sorry that I cannot answer this question. I am answering as a torch bearer, and as a person calling for separation of sports and politics. Therefore, I ask to not answer this question at this time.

DCVOnline: Then what do you think of the activities of the Tibetans in Paris and London recently when the Olympic torch passed through these two cities?

Le Minh Phieu: In Paris, they have the right to demonstrate. But I think that it would be better if the demonstrators did not obstruct and make the torch go out. The torch belongs to the world, not of any particular country. It represents goodness. It should not be obstructed and put out.

DCVOnline: Why did you choose 7 April to publicize the letter?

Le Minh Phieu: Simply because that was the day I finished writing the letter, and also the day I sent it to the IOC president. I posted it on the internet immediately after I sent it.

DCVOnline: How long did it take you from the time you thought of writing the letter until publicizing it?

Le Minh Phieu: I began to think about it on 22 March. I began to write since that day. Actually I was supposed to send it sooner but my blog had problems. I had to fix it before sending the letter.

DCVOnline: What are your thoughts on the reactions of the Vietnamese government in the face of acts of territorial violation and killing and injuring of Vietnamese fishermen by China?

Le Minh Phieu: This question is similar to the above question, so I ask to not answer.

DCVOnline: Has the Vietnamese embassy in France given any response since you publicized the letter?

Le Minh Phieu: I have not received any response. This activity was carried out by me rather quietly until the day I publicized the letter. Even in Bordeaux, virtually none of the students knew of this letter.

DCVOnline: Last question. Do you follow the opinions of people who read your letter posted on DCVOnline?

Le Minh Phieu: Since the day I publicized the letter until today, I had to prepare for a meeting with my professor this morning, so I haven’t had the chance to read many responses from people on the internet. I will probably read later.

DCVOnline: Thank you for this interview.



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