China Tells NGOs not to Overreact Amid International Outcry

China Tells NGOs not to Overreact Amid International Outcry
Photo Credit: AP/達志影像

As the world’s leading non-government organizations criticize China’s new NGO controls, Chinese state-media says there is no need for overreaction.

Last week, China passed new laws tightening the rules around how thousands of international groups can operate in China.

The United Nations human rights office has called for the law, which comes into force next year, to be repealed.

“We fear that the excessively broad and vague provisions, and administrative discretion given to the authorities in regulating the work of foreign NGOs can be wielded as tools to intimidate, and even suppress, dissenting views and opinions in the country,” a group of UN experts say in a joint statement.

The group notes that under the new law, foreign NGOs are banned from undertaking activities deemed as endangering national unity, national security or ethnic unity or harming China’s national interests and societal public interests.

“Such broadly crafted restrictions fail to comply with international human rights norms and standards relating to freedom of association and freedom of expression,” the experts said.

China needs NGOs, says Chinese activist

According to the NGOs in China blog, the law will cover “a wide range of organizations,” from industry and trade associations to development and human rights groups. Fortune reports that the law will impact some 7,000 foreign organizations, including names like Greenpeace and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

China Labor Bulletin Director Han Dongfang told CNN that while NGOs operating in China should be “careful” and “prepared,” the new law shouldn’t be viewed as “the end of the world.”

He says cited several issues, including inequality and environmental damage, and suggested that China is reliant on foreign NGOs to address these problems.

“You need NGOs to clean it up. Government cannot clean it up. Police cannot clean up.”

China’s domestic NGOs also “need” foreign NGOs because there is not enough available funding within China, he says.

“The basic fact is China needs NGOs. It is not NGOs [that] need China,” says Han.

Xinhua reported in 2012 that there were nearly half a million registered NGOs in China.

Police control?

China state-owned Xinhua has released an editorial on the issue, saying some people appear to have misunderstood the new law. It highlights the involvement of the police in the registration and regulation processes as one issue that has attracted particular concern.

“The police have not been handed unrestricted power, and systems will be in place to assure accountability and, should they fail in their duty, suitable punishments,” reads the editorial.

It also argues the lawmakers took on board opinions on the initial draft and made several changes to the final law – the draft drew widespread opposition from the international NGO and diplomatic community in China.

“For instance, the adopted law removed a provision in the original draft that limited foreign NGO offices on the Chinese mainland to one, and deleted the five-year operational limit on representative offices. Restrictions on staff and volunteers were also lifted.”

And it says under the draft, NGOs that want to operate temporarily on the mainland would have been required to be issued a permit.

“In the adopted law this has been changed to a compulsory report with the regulator 15 days before the program begins.”

The editorial concludes that while the new law may not be perfect, it is a “good start.”

“It is likely that problems may emerge as it is enforced but, with the support and cooperation of NGOs, these problems can be properly addressed.”

The UN experts note “some improvements,” but say they remain “deeply concerned” that NGOs whose work is deemed sensitive will be severely hindered. They are also concerned that the law will have follow-on impacts on those domestic NGOs that cooperate with foreign NGOs or are funded by them.

The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders says the law has kept “the most worrisome provision” – giving China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) full authority over the registration and supervision of foreign-based NGOs operating inside China.

“This is a clear indication the government views such groups as a threat to national security,” the group says.

Likewise, Amnesty International says the “fundamentally flawed law” will have “severe consequences for freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, which are already sharply curtailed under existing laws and policies.”

The organization also points toward China’s new anti-terrorism law, and the looming introduction of tighter cyber security rules as further restrictions on freedom of expression increase in China.

Xinhua editorial
The United Nations
Amnesty International
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders
NGOs in China