Delay in Passage of Chinese NGO Law Raises Questions

More than two years after the Chinese government proposed legislation that would have tightened controls on foreign nongovernmental organizations, the law has yet to be enacted, causing some China-watchers to question whether the government is reconsidering its position, the New York Times reports.

Although the Foreign NGO Management Law, which requires charities and branches of foreign universities and chambers of commerce to obtain government sponsors and places restrictions on their fundraising, has gone through two drafts, it has yet to be approved by the National People's Congress. But while few people expect the legislation to be dropped  — the head of the legislature's Standing Committee has said the bill was among "the tasks for this year" — the delay has raised the possibility that the government is worried about what effect its passage could have on the country's economic growth. Indeed, the pushback from foreign governments, businesses, educational institutions, industry associations, and  NGOs has been such that the government may have moved to table, at least temporarily, the legislation, a representative of an educational organization told the Times.

Ahead of the opening of the National People's Congress earlier this month, Fu Ying, a spokeswoman for the congress, said the government was still reviewing comments on the legislation, even though the official comment period ended last June. "It has still not yet been definitely decided which session of the Standing Committee will submit the review," said Fu. "We still have to deal with various recommendations and opinions in order to revise this law well." At the same time, Fu defended the law, saying, "We need to clearly specify which activities are illegal. Mostly, we are trying to provide a more standardized legal environment, not trying to restrict foreign NGOs from conducting beneficial activities in China."

"I was interested to hear Fu Ying say that they were still reviewing comments on the draft law," Shawn Shieh, who works at a Hong Kong-based NGO, told the Times. "It's been almost ten months since the comments session. This delay indicates that there is some debate over this. This draft law contained things of really serious concern, not just for international NGOs but also for those within the system."

Didi Kirsten Tatlow. "China Wrestles With Draft Law on Nongovernmental Organizations." New York Times 03/11/2016.