Sat, Jun 20, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Foreign non-profit groups fear authoritarian new Chinese Law

By Andrew Jacobs  /  NY Times News Service, BEIJING

A remarkable assortment of foreign organizations set up shop in China in the decades after its emergence from isolation under Mao Zedong (毛澤東), offering good will, money and expertise that helped link the nation more closely to the rest of the world and turn it into the global powerhouse it is today.

However, sweeping new legislation introduced by the government of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is forcing many of these groups — including international trade associations and philanthropic foundations — to consider scaling back their activities in China or pulling out of the country entirely.

The proposed law, which began circulating in draft form last month and is expected to be enacted later this year, would put foreign non-profit and non-governmental organizations (NGO) under the supervision of the Chinese security apparatus, reflecting both the more restrictive approach toward civil society endorsed by Xi and the Chinese Communist Party’s long-standing fear that external forces are conspiring to overthrow it.

If the legislation is adopted unchanged — a prospect many experts say is likely given the party’s approach to lawmaking — foreign groups working in China would have to find a government sponsor and seek police approval for all “activities.”

With few exceptions, they would be barred from accepting donations inside China and would be required to hire Chinese citizens for at least half of all staff positions. And professional associations, whether for scientists or insurance brokers, would be prohibited from accepting Chinese members.

Beijing has long been wary of international groups that campaign for political causes or work to promote rule of law and legal rights in China. However, the proposed foreign nongovernmental organization management law has caused alarm across a broad array of institutions that the Chinese government had previously welcomed, including European industry groups, US universities and international aid organizations.

Several groups said the law could force them to curtail their operations, including professional training programs, public lectures and grant-making, in part because it appears to empower the police to decide the legality of almost everything they do. More broadly, there is concern that after three decades of increasing openness, China has concluded that it no longer needs what the outside world has to offer and is beginning to close its doors.

“A lot of groups are panicking, even those that are completely apolitical,” said a US employee of a foundation that focuses on governance and environmental issues and is preparing for the possibility that it is going to have to leave China.

The irony, she and others said, is that the legislation threatens groups that over the past three decades have supported policies that contributed to China’s rejuvenation, including exchange programs and expanded trade, even as others urged a tougher line against the government’s repressive tendencies.

She and a dozen other employees of the estimated 6,000 foreign non-profits in China spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of offending Beijing and drawing attention to their organizations.

“The kind of engagement provided by groups like us has been so valuable for China and the risk is they will be throwing out the baby with the bathwater,” said the director of a US university program that operates in Beijing, adding that the proposed law does not distinguish between advocacy groups that promote labor rights, for example, and buttoned-up business associations and academic institutions.

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