China ready to shut down foreign NGOs

New law that would allow Beijing to filter out foreign funding of groups, seen as a matter of national security

After years of operating in a precarious legal limbo, foreign non-governmental organizations in China are facing a moment of truth that could force many of them to close their doors.

The Chinese government is drafting a new foreign NGO law that is widely expected to make work more difficult, if not impossible, for many of the 6,000 overseas non-profits that operate here in a broad range of fields from education and the environment to HIV-Aids and legal education.

Under the new law, foreign non-profits would not be allowed to open more than one office, or to raise funds locally, or be allowed to fund projects deemed counter to what is being called “Chinese society’s moral customs,” according to excerpts seen by The Christian Science Monitor of the still unpublished bill.

At the heart of the proposed law is a view that foreign non-profits are a potential threat to national security.

“We need to protect their legitimate interests, to let them play a greater role, but on the other hand they need more effective management, to sufficiently protect our national security and social stability,” said Fu Ying, spokeswoman for the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliament, before it opened its annual session last week.

The bill was presented last December to the Standing Committee of the NPC by Yang Huanning, Vice Minister of Public Security. It came on the heels of a survey of foreign-funded NGOs ordered last summer by the National Security Commission, headed by President Xi Jinping.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs, traditionally responsible for non-governmental organizations, appears to play no role in the drafting of the legal text, according to people familiar with the situation.

The draft law puts the Ministry of Public Security in charge of registering foreign NGOs, which are obliged to find a government agency to sponsor them. They would also have to submit annual work plans, including all funding proposals, in advance to their sponsoring agency such as a ministry or local government authority.

NGO’s, especially those who work in politically sensitive areas such as gay rights, journalism training or labor relations fear that the new law will be used to shut them down. “This law, from what we have heard, gives unprecedented power to the police,” says one activist with a foreign NGO in Beijing. “They want to show a heavy hand.”

The new bill, now under closed-door discussion, is expected to pass by the end of this year.