Getting Around China's Tough New NGO Laws
Recent years have seen a growing appetite for charitable giving and philanthropy in China — but as the civil society space evolves, so has the regulatory environment: In the last two years, the Chinese government has passed laws placing stricter restrictions on foreign non-governmental organizations. But Anthony Saich, director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard Kennedy School, said at Asia Society on Monday that organizations will find ways around these restrictions and continue to operate effectively.
The foreign NGO law that came into effect in January 2017 requires international groups to first find a sponsoring agency before they can register with the Ministry of Public Security. Saich pointed out that many sponsoring agencies will be reluctant to take on responsibility for an international group “because all it can really mean is trouble [and] it’s probably better to just give no reply or either do nothing.”
Nevertheless, Saich argued that “those who are really trying to work in advocacy areas [...] are going to find that it’s a very conducive atmosphere to work in China.” He added that “the Chinese are nothing if not creative. As soon as a regulation [is introduced], within a few months everybody has worked out how to get around it and how to basically nullify it.”
Saich is confident that “there is a base now within Chinese society that didn’t exist before autonomous and NGO organizations” and the Chinese government “can’t wish that away once it’s started.”
Saich appeared in conversation alongside Wang Yongmei, a practicing public interest lawyer at Beijing Huayi, and Jessica Batke, senior editor at ChinaFile and head of the NGO Project, about the consequences of China’s new civil society law. The complete video from Monday’s program can be found below.