Some international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in China are suspending operations, cancelling events and losing partnerships in the country six months after the government introduced a law requiring them to register with the police.
To register, the groups must first approach a government ministry from a provided list and ask it to become a “supervisory body” that will vet financial and operational details of the NGO’s work before filing them with the Ministry of Public Security.
The majority of the dozen NGOs approached by Reuters for this article say the law, which came in on Jan 1, has been a bureaucratic nightmare and appears to be aimed at making it more difficult for them to operate in China. Some NGOs say the ministries are often reluctant to take on the sponsor’s role.
Beijing says the law boosts Chinese state support for foreign NGOs and only need worry a handful of illegal groups whose political and religious work harms China’s national security.
The Chinese government estimates there are around 7,000 overseas NGOs in mainland China; academics who have studied the sector suggest about 1,000 of these have a permanent presence in China and so need to register. According to the Ministry of Public Security database, only 139 representative offices of foreign NGOs have been registered so far.
When foreign NGOs limit their operations in China it can not only curb the direct flow of funds into projects but can also hurt their Chinese non-profit partners. Many of these partnerships have been instrumental in establishing building blocks of modern Chinese society in areas such as education and healthcare.