The legislation regulating foreign NGOs came into effect last Sunday, causing widespread concern that China is sparing no effort to constrain overseas non-profit groups in order to hold back the progress of civil society.
The new law that requires China offices of foreign NGOs to find a local sponsor, file activity plans for approval, according to Financial Times, is interpreted by some critics as Beijing’s way to cement its control over a burgeoning civil society.
China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) would act as regulator to grant legal status and approval of activities for the non-profit organizations which are estimated to have reached around 7,000 in the Chinese mainland. Considering MPS’ role in cracking down on human rights activists in the country and the fact that in other countries civil affairs ministries usually deal with NGOs, it is argued the law may be repressive and would affect all organizations’ China operations.
The law on Domestic Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations was passed by the National People’s Congress this April, with a goal to “facilitate the operation of the majority and deal with an illegal minority.” When it was being reviewed by legislators, Fu Ying, the vice foreign minister, answered questions from foreign media concerning the controversial law, saying that for drafting the law, the foreign community in China affected by the law had been widely consulted.
“Overseas NGOs have become a very active group, and their number has reached over 7,000, suggested by statistics,” said Fu Ying, noting that the groups have brought China both expertise and money, and it is because the government values exchanges in the field, a specialized legislation is required.
When asked why the public security authorities would be given ‘sweeping’ powers over the organizations, Fu answered that in China, the MPS has been handling immigrants and all kinds of foreign registrations, so it is natural for them to shoulder the responsibility.
Wang Cunkui, a professor with the Chinese People’s Public Security University who has been studying foreign NGOs, pointed out the possible negative effects on the groups back in 2014. “Among the several thousands of organizations, several hundred are engaged in illegal activities, which are categorized as political infiltration. Wang noted some foreign groups are using activities like cultural exchange, educational programs and training for ideological filtration, or to illegally acquire our political, economic, scientific and military information.
Although only a small group of foreign NGOs have been suspected of malpractices, the new law seems to have caused concerns among all. Embassies in China and NGOs have criticized the law as limiting their legal operations. The MPS has recently released a list of eligible sponsors that all foreign charity or funding groups could report to, while none of the groups meet the conditions and even well-established ones like Greenpeace and Ford Foundation need to find sponsors and do the registration again.
Regulators soon announced that even after the January 1 deadline, foreign NGOs could still file registrations following required steps.