State media seeks to reassure overseas NGOs

Haiwainet.com, the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, has published an article claiming that overseas NGOs in China have nothing to worry about as long as they follow the law. This comes in the wake of the detention of two Canadians in China on December 13, at least one of whom was accused of working for an unregistered overseas NGO. The article is entitled “Canadian citizen detained in China, what are overseas NGOs panicking about? (加拿大公民在华被拘 境外非政府组织慌什么?)

As the Haiwainet article reminds us, at the regular press conference of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on December 12, ministry spokesman Lu Kang claimed that the detention of former Canadian diplomat and full-time expert consultant of the International Crisis Group (ICG) Michael Kovrig was due to the fact that the ICG is not a registered overseas NGO in China, and thus has no legal status to conduct activities within China according to the Overseas NGO Law. The incident has inevitably raised concern about the risk that other overseas NGOs may face in China in the future.

The authors of the piece seek to reassure that there is no basis for any such concerns, as long as overseas NGOs abide by the law. They claim that the Chinese government has continuously been sending positive signals about its openness and inclusiveness to foreign entities, including overseas NGOs, for forty years. Some overseas NGOs have established in-depth cooperation with Chinese agencies and provided professional and advanced technology and management skills, which helped the development of China in technology, social welfare, and charitable causes. It is also mentioned that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been in China since 2007 and has made great contributions to poverty alleviation, disease control, and agricultural technology research.

The Haiwainet piece goes on to assert however that for those NGOs which have the intention to engage in illegal activities in China, “the reins of the law are indeed getting tighter and tighter”. It claims that some western NGOs have been involved in supporting and sheltering separatist forces and endangered China’s national security and public interests, and that the call for regulating the activities of overseas NGOs in China has been increasing in recent years. The authors assure that while the establishment of China’s Overseas NGO Law raised worries in the western world in the beginning, this is actually common practice in terms of “foreign agent” management around the world. As an example of this they take the Foreign Agents Registration Act passed by the United States in 1938, requiring that agents representing the interests of foreign powers disclose their relationship with foreign governments and information about related activities and finances. Under this legislation, the American branch of Russia Today was requested to register as a foreign agent, which means that their right to contact American members of Congress and other officials is limited.

The article concludes by saying that the effective implementation of China’s Overseas NGO Law creates a better environment for overseas NGOs, facilitates their activities, and protects their legal rights, and overseas NGOs will achieve more space for development as long as they act within the frame of the law.

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