Foreign NGOs in China Under Scrutiny

Perhaps out of concern that Western governments are using nongovernmental organizations to promote democracy, the Chinese government appears to be conducting a "security review" of foreign NGOs and investigating local nonprofits that receive funding from abroad, the New York Times reports.

A notice posted briefly — and apparently by mistake — on a government website set a timeline for local compliance with a "penetrating" security review of foreign NGOs in China that, according to the notice, was being conducted in response to guidance from the National Security Commission. Chinese organizations with foreign ties also would be investigated, the notice said.

While Western organizations with offices in China, including the Asia, Ford, and Bill & Melinda Gates foundations, declined to speak on the record or did not respond to the Times’ requests for comment, many are understood to be anxious, and at least some have been asked to complete forms with dozens of questions about where and how they are registered, their assets, and their personnel.

Meanwhile, Chinese nonprofits are being questioned about how much foreign funding they receive, from whom, and for what purposes, the Times reports. For instance, three forms delivered to a Chinese NGO that receives funding from abroad asked for details about the organization's "sphere of work," "political background," and "goals"; the names and ID numbers of employees and "cooperating Chinese persons"; and the names of "NGO employees who are active in China." After staff refused to fill out the forms, the group's bank account was frozen, its premises were raided, and computers and papers were confiscated, although it is not clear whether the raid was connected to the organization's refusal to comply with the request or the recent detention of its co-founder on charges of "gathering a crowd to disturb public order."

One employee at a Western NGO in China who declined to be identified told the Times that while it was evident something was happening, it's unclear what the implications are. Nor is it an entirely new experience, he added, noting that the Communist Party has long harbored suspicions about the intentions of foreign NGOs working in the country.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow. "New Signs That China Is Scrutinizing Foreign NGOs." New York Times 06/27/2014.