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An Interpretation of China's Overseas NGO Management Law
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A JOINT TRANSLATION PROJECT 

BY BEIJING REVIEW & KING'S COLLEGE, LONDON 

 

Regulating the activities of overseas non-governmental organizations (NGOs) by law is a common practice in many countries. To better regulate their activities in China and promote their healthy development, the Chinese Government recently enacted a law on the management of the activities of overseas NGOs in China. However, some people, organizations and Western governments that view China with suspicion have accused China of attempting to limit the activities of NGOs through this legislation. This has caused a good deal of misunderstanding about the law--both at home and abroad. Many of these accusations and criticisms seem to come from a misunderstanding or bias about China. An objective look at this legislation will show that this law is not designed to suppress foreign NGOs, but instead to promote their healthy development in China.

First, prior to this law, there had been no legal basis for the development of overseas NGOs in China. This is the first piece of legislation in China aimed at regulating foreign NGOs operating within the country. Although there were some rules in both the 1989 Interim Provisions for the Administration of Foreign Chambers of Commerce in China, and the 2004 Regulation on Foundation Administration, actual administering their activities was not officially included in China's legal system. Due to the lack of a clear and unified law, many problems have emerged for overseas NGOs operating in China. Overall, there have been instances of mismanagement of human resources, chaotic uses of funds as well as a number of other issues. Some overseas NGOs did not even register with the government while working in China.

Currently, there are around 1,000 foreign-based NGOs operating in China on a long-term basis. If short-term projects were included, this number could reach 6,000. With the rapid growth of such NGOs, China needed a law that would include the administration of NGOs in China's legal system. China is continually trying to promote the rule of law. Regulating overseas NGOs' activities within a legal structure is an important aspect of this strategy.

Guo Shengkun, Minister of Public Security, said that the new law has been created to promote the rule of law and guide and regulate overseas NGOs' activities in China. According to Xu Xianming, deputy head of the National People's Congress Law Committee, the law will provide clear and unified regulations for overseas NGOs active in China.

Now the law is passed, there will be more space for overseas NGOs' healthy development in China.

Secondly, the Chinese Government has always welcomed the contributions that overseas NGOs have made to China's development. Since reform and opening up began in the 1970s, China has seen an increasing number of overseas NGOs. These NGOs have brought capital, technology and management experience that have helped promote China's development.

The law stipulates that overseas NGOs that are carrying out legal activities in China will be protected by law. Relevant government departments shall provide policy advice, guidance, and other services to them in accordance with the law. Thus, the law is an important measure to legally protect overseas NGOs' activities in China. As long as their activities are legal and conducive to China's development, the NGOs won't be restrained or prohibited.

In interviews with the U.S. media, President Xi Jinping said that China attaches importance to the management of foreign non-profit organizations in the country. The government will regulate their activities in China so as to safeguard their rights. These organizations should follow Chinese laws and conduct their activities in the country in an orderly way.

This shows the Chinese Government welcomes all overseas NGOs willing to work legitimately in China. The law was also created to remind all overseas NGOs that if they want to operate in China, they must observe Chinese laws and conduct their work accordingly.

The law will promote increased participation by overseas NGOs in the development of China's economic, social, cultural, and ecological fields in a legitimate and orderly way. It will also advance China's foreign exchanges and cooperation, deepen foreign countries' understanding of China, and push forward peace and development throughout China and the world.

Furthermore, regardless of an NGO's focus, all must follow the laws of the country they operate in. While most foreign NGOs in China have played a positive role throughout the last few decades, there have still been some issues. In a number of instances, foreign NGOs have ignored relevant Chinese law and regulations and engaged in political activities that were unrelated to their main activities. Some have been seen to also collaborate with anti-communist or anti-socialist elements to promote a "color revolution" in China--attempting to undermine China's national security and damage China's national interests.

Statistics from the Hong Kong media show that hundreds of foreign NGOs are engaging in political activities in China. If these are not properly regulated, they will pose a bigger threat to China's national security. Additionally, the overall image of overseas NGOs operating in China may then be damaged, and their overall development in China may be affected. If this happens, it would be unfair to NGOs conducting legal activities in China.

For all of these reasons, Guo stressed that all overseas NGOs should observe China's laws when conducting activities in the country and operate within the sphere permitted by the law.

Finally, China put the foreign NGO management law into place to comprehensively promote the rule of law by drawing on a practice already adopted by other countries.

Currently, many countries have passed laws regulating overseas NGOs' activities. For example, on May 24 Russian President Vladimir Putin enacted legislation banning overseas NGOs that engage in activities that violate Russia's Constitution or undermine its national security. In 2012, Russia passed a law requiring all overseas NGOs engaging in political activities in Russia to be registered as "foreign agencies."

Indian media have reported that in April, about 9,000 NGO licenses were suspended as their activities did not conform to Indian laws and regulations. Many of these were foreign NGOs. It is worth noting that India included the Ford Foundation, a U.S. NGO, on its national security monitoring list. In the future, all donations made by the foundation to local organizations require the Indian Government's approval first. India has also suspended the license of the Indian branch of Greenpeace and frozen its bank account.

These examples show that regulating overseas NGOs according to local laws is a common practice in a number of countries. Managing the activities of foreign NGOs according to law is a basic requirement and bottom line of any sovereign country, especially China.

This is an edited excerpt of an article by Zhu Jidong, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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