New China law a recognition of NGO power?


China is moving closer this week to a new law that would strictly control thousands of foreign nongovernmental organizations in the country, The New York Times reports:

Foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations denounced two earlier drafts, saying their wording implied that the Chinese government viewed such groups as potential criminal organizations. Critics said the proposed restrictions would lead to groups’ curtailing important work in China, such as legal assistance and programs promoting the rule of law.

The language subjecting the foreign groups to oversight by the police is likely to remain in the final version, according to a report by Global Times, a state-run newspaper. That would affect more than 7,000 groups operating in China.

Xinhua said one notable change in the new draft was a phrase giving examples of foreign groups that would be regulated by the law. The new draft says the law would apply to groups “such as foundations, social groups or think tanks,” the news agency reported. Exchanges with academic groups, schools and hospitals would be handled according to the “relevant provisions of national law.”

Jeremy L. Daum, a senior researcher at the China Center at Yale Law School, wrote on the China Law Translate blog  that the wording used by Xinhua left “foreign and domestic organizations guessing what activities might be covered.”

Some analysts see such moves as evidence of a broader geopolitical shift, partially reversing an earlier trend toward liberal democracy, reports suggest.

“Politically authoritarian regimes, particularly those with resources such as China, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, have their own vision of how institutions should work and how expression should be understood, and they are pursuing that vision vigorously,” says Christopher Walker, who recently co-edited “Authoritarianism Goes Global:

Western leaders should be “much more vocal and forthright about repressive laws that contravene international standards,” adds Mr. Walker, a senior analyst at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington. “That simply isn’t happening.”….At the same time, Walker points out, “it is remarkable how people continue to raise their voices even when governments use force to suppress them. These groups will not go away.”

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