On Monday, China announced that it would move to “regulate” foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to keep political checks on these organizations and to prevent them from fomenting political unrest. NGO regulation is part of a new law being discussed this week, according to reports in Chinese state media. Reuters reports that the new law will primarily step up supervision of the “fast-growing” NGO sector in China. The law is under debate following a months-long investigation into foreign NGO operations in China as part of a national security initiative. Chinese President Xi Jinping himself headed the national panel under which the NGO investigation was conducted.
China’s move to regulate NGOs is occurring at both national and local levels. For example, Guangzhou recently passed a law requiring NGOs and other civic groups to register with the city government. The city government cited concerns over “illegal” social organizations. Critics of the law noted that it would almost certainly result in a large decrease in civil society activism in and around the city. Guangzhou’s decision to implement the law went against the Hu Jintao-era reform of semi-liberal Guangdong party secretary Wang Yang, who actually relaxed NGO registration laws. Wang, who is best known for defusing the crisis in Wukan some years ago, is now a vice premier in the Xi Jinping government.
On the current debate over the national law, Xinhua, citing Deputy Public Security Minister Yang Huanning, notes that “the bill aims to regulate the activities of overseas NGOs in China, protect their legal rights and interests, and promote exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and foreigners.” Additionally, under the law, all levels of government bureaucracy in China will be required to “provide policy consultation, assistance and guidance for overseas NGOs so that they can effectively and legally operate in the mainland.” “It is necessary to have a law to regulate, guide and supervise their activities,” Yang added. There is no confirmation of when this law might come into effect, but it could be as soon as early 2015.
China’s anxiety over foreign NGOs multiplied following this year’s protests in Hong Kong, which Beijing attributed to hostile foreign forces. Recently, speaking to the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of its transfer to Chinese control, Xi Jinping warned Macau residents to guard against interference by these same foreign forces. Xi’s anxieties echo concerns in other countries. Most notably, Vladimir Putin’s government in Russia has banned several prominent U.S.-affiliated NGOs under the pretext of national security concerns.