China Set to Crack Down on Foreign NGOs in Move That 'Targets Civil Society'

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china-beijing-npc-session-closing-july1-2015.jpg Members of China's National People's Congress Standing Committee vote during their closing meeting in Beijing, July 1, 2015.

China's parliament is considering a new law that would require foreign charities and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to be supervised by its police force.

The standing committee of the National People's Congress (NPC) began its third review of a draft law this week, and are unlikely to drop requirements for NGOs to register with police, according to the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.

If passed, the law will extend restrictions on civil society and rights groups to cover those incorporated overseas, amid an ongoing crackdown on their activities under the administration of President Xi Jinping.

The NPC already passed a Charities Law on Mar. 16 that will bar Chinese NGOs from raising funds without government approval on pain of criminal investigation.

Rights groups say that both laws seem targeted to hit organizations defending the rights of vulnerable groups in China.

"The engagement of police departments is unlikely to change, as the law was designed for national security," the Global Times quoted Huang Haoming, deputy director of the China Association for NGO Cooperation, as saying.

Foreign agendas

Xi's government has cited concerns that foreign NGOs might be used by overseas governments to promote their objectives, values, or political agendas, the paper said.

The draft currently under consideration will require NGOs to be "registered, supervised and managed by public security departments," it said.

"It also says that police can check the offices of overseas NGOs, question their employees, look at their materials and seal their offices," the paper said, citing recent police raids on a legal aid organization that culminated in the arrest and deportation of Swedish national Peter Dahlin.

Dahlin's group had "train[ed] unlicensed lawyers and support[ed] petitioners to defame China and sensationalize social issues," according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Beijing-based rights lawyer Liang Xiaojun told RFA that the aim of the law is to restrict the involvement of overseas rights groups in activities within China's borders.

"It doesn't matter how they amend it; the aim of this legislation hasn't changed," Liang said. "I'm not optimistic about the future outlook for foreign NGOs in China."

Vague, arbitrary

The law will enable Chinese authorities to blacklist NGOs deemed guilty of national security-related crimes like subversion or separatism, Liang said.

But the definitions of such crimes remain vague and subject to arbitrary interpretation by the authorities at any time, he said.

Another Chinese rights lawyer, Yang Zaixin, agreed, saying Xi's administration is about to launch a "clean-up" of foreign groups operating in China.

"They feel compelled to control every detail of what NGOs do, including their sources of funding and the people who work for them," Yang said.

U.S.-based NGO Freedom House said the move is a clear indication that Xi's administration wants to get rid of foreign NGOs operating in China.

"The details released about China’s draft law on NGOs highlight the Chinese government’s intention to cripple independent civil society by giving security forces greater authority to monitor NGOs' work," the group's president Mark Lagon said in a statement on its website.

"New regulations would allow security agencies to monitor, interrogate, and interfere in the daily activities of most NGOs operating in China, including those that scrutinize government conduct and advocate for civil and human rights," Lagon said.

'Drinking tea'

Li Qiang, who founded the New York-based NGO China Labor Watch, said NGOs were  already subject to low-level police harassment in the form of invitations to "drink tea."

Now, that practice will become formal, said Li, whose organization has exposed poor labor practices at Chinese factories, including unsafe working conditions and the use of child labor.

"If we were to keep them informed about what we did, they'd stop us doing it," Li said. "This is a retrograde step."

"The groups that don't want to be restricted won't come [to China] in the first place," he said. "This will have a negative impact on environmental protection, the civil rights movement, and public health in China."

Jeremy L. Daum, senior researcher at the China Center of Yale Law School, said foreign NGOs will also need to find a Chinese sponsoring body before they can operate in China, no easy task considering the extra administrative burden placed on the "supervisory body."

"It would be regretful, but not surprising, if some groups simply decide they cannot meet these burdens as has happened in other countries with similar legislation, or that the limits on freedom of association are incompatible with their mission statements, and stop exchanges with China," Daum wrote in a commentary on the China Law Translate blog.

Officials say there are currently more than 7,000 overseas NGOs in China, carrying out environmental protection, science and technology, educational, and cultural activities.

Reported by Ha Si-man and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Jiadai for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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