POLICY BRIEF NO. 12: A New Dawn After the 18th Party Congress?

After the 18th Party Congress, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who have been anointed to become the new president and premier respectively (they will assume these positions after the next National People’s Congress in March of 2013) made a number of public appearances that gave observers some optimism that the new leadership will be supportive of reforms strengthening China’s civil society, but we will have to wait and see if they follow up with actions, and not just words.

Xi made a trip to the more freewheeling southern province of Guangdong to promote the reforms being carried out there. He also spoke on the 30th anniversary of the 1982 revision to the Constitution, calling for officials to do more to protect citizen rights, including human rights, and promote public confidence in the law. “We must firmly establish, throughout society, the authority of the Constitution and the law and allow the overwhelming masses to fully believe in the law,” he said. In a separate meeting with HIV/AIDS activists, Li Keqiang called for the government to provide more support, specifically in terms of registration and funding, to grassroots NGOs engaged in combating HIV/AIDS.

Two other developments caught the media’s eye this month that deserve our attention. One is the government’s effort to build a foundation for government contracting to NGOs, and the other is an effort at the local level to create a “hub” system to better support and manage NGOs. The first effort is important because it heralds a new era of state-NGO collaboration, albeit on the state’s terms, and offers cash-strapped NGOs a new source of funding. The second is significant because it represents an effort by the local party-state to bring NGOs under their big tent.

Government contracting to NGOs will receive a big boost with the historic decision by the central government to set up a RMB 200 million (USD 32 million) fund in 2013 to purchase social services from social organizations. In line with this announcement, the Ministry of Civil Affairs has issued a “2013 Project Implementation Plan for the Government Financial Support of Social Organizations’ Participation in Social Services”, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Finance have jointly issued a set of guidelines about how this fund will be used.

In the other development, the Guangdong provincial government, following in the footsteps of an earlier experiment in Beijing, is putting in place a “hub” system that will use “mass organizations” such as the Communist Youth League and Women’s Federation, which enjoy close ties to the party-state, as a vehicle for supporting and managing NGOs.

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