China's national legislature has passed a law that tightens controls over foreign nongovernmental organizations, a move critics say will have a detrimental impact on civil society in the country, the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal report.
In its third and final version, the law states that foreign NGOs must not endanger China's national security and ethnic unity and leaves unchanged the controversial provision putting the Ministry of Public Security in charge of the registration process for overseas nonprofits. The law grants police the power to question administrators, search residences and facilities, seize files and equipment, and blacklist "unwelcome" groups and prevent them from operating in the country if they commit violations, including "spreading rumors, slandering, or otherwise expressing or disseminating harmful information that endangers state security."
The final version of the law exempts educational institutions, medical facilities, and academic and research groups in the natural sciences and engineering technology from many of the restrictions; removes restrictions on setting up multiple offices or hiring volunteers and staff; and eliminates a requirement that NGOs reapply for permission to operate in China every five years. However, the law bans foreign organizations from setting up regional chapters or raising funds within China and requires that they submit annual reports detailing their funding sources, spending activities, and any changes in personnel.
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders denounced the law as "draconian," saying it allows police to exercise the "daily supervision and monitoring" of foreign NGOs. Moreover, the law will have "a profoundly detrimental impact on civil society in China," the group told the AP.
"The very point of civil society is that, beyond minimal registration requirements, it's independent — free of government control," Sophie Richardson, director of Asia advocacy at Human Rights Watch, told the Journal. "This law shows Beijing's intent to do exactly the opposite."