Can Taiwan Fill in the Gap for Foreign NGOs in China?

Can Taiwan Fill in the Gap for Foreign NGOs in China?
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

China's crackdown on foreign NGOs could be an opportunity for Taiwan.

One researcher sees a new opportunity emerging for Taiwan as China cracks down on foreign non-government organizations (NGO).

Many are predicting a flight of foreign NGOs from China when new restrictions come into force next year. Cambodia, India, Egypt and Russia are among the other countries that are implementing similar restrictions on how domestic NGOs interact with foreign organizations “due to the rise of civil societies around the world in recent years,” Li Yen-cheng (李晏榛), a Taiwanese researcher on NGOs, told CNA.

Lu Jun (陸軍), a member of NGO Beijing Yirenping Center (益仁平), which promotes social justice and public health, tells CNA that the relationship between local and foreign NGOs is not just about gaining financial support, but also learning from the more developed operating systems of international NGOs.

But China’s new NGO controls will “have a strong impact” on this, Lu says.

Li says that while civil society relies on local organizations rather than international NGOs, it is “hard to say” if domestic NGOs in China will continue to expand once foreign organizations pull out – talent, funding and regulations all play a crucial role in NGO development.

But, Li says, “This is an opportunity for Taiwan NGOs.”

The researcher points out that members of Chinese NGOs often travel to Taiwan and Hong Kong to cultivate social workers in community development and child protection services. These are areas in which Taiwan has more developed laws and experience.

Li believes that Taiwan NGOs can fill in the gaps European or American NGOs leave behind if they withdraw from China, and she emphasizes that organizations on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should learn from each other since there is less of a language barrier.

A Taiwan Business Topics article published on Sept. 8 also observes that Taichung, in central Taiwan is, “working on plans to establish a facility to serve as the regional headquarters for international non-government organizations ... active in Southeast Asia.”

The article also warns of the “remnants of the constraints on civic organizations adopted decades ago during the period of authoritarian rule under martial law,” and mentions Interior Minister Yeh Jiunn-rong’s (葉俊榮) recent project “to review laws and regulations governing civic organizations, with the aim of updating and liberalizing the relevant rules and structures.”

Under China’s new law, foreign NGOs wishing to operate in China must register with public security officials and 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. Chinese authorities can also ban any NGO found to have “violated Chinese regulations” from operating in the country for five years, and international NGOs can only use bank accounts registered with public security officials.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole