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China Just Passed a New Law Controlling Foreign NGOs

The draft version of the law required that all foreign NGOs register with the police and banned them from engaging in activities which endanger China's "national unity" or "public order and morality."

by VICE News and Reuters
Apr 28 2016, 11:10am

Greenpeace activists display a banner in the financial district of Hong Kong in June 2015. Photo by Alex Hofford/EPA

China has passed a controversial new law governing foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs), state news agency Xinhua reported on Thursday, as it continues what has been described as an intense campaign against civil society.

No details have been given of what the law contained, but earlier versions of the legislation made public sought to place stringent new restrictions on organizations, banning them from taking part in political activity that damaged China's interests and requiring them all to register with state security officials.

State media said this week legislators had recommended it be put to a vote following adjustments to some provisions criticized by foreign governments and civil society groups. It was not immediately clear what had been changed.

Earlier versions of the law gave broad latitude to the police to regulate activities and funding of overseas groups operating in China, and the United States, Canada, and the European Union had urged for it to be revised.

Related: China Hits Back at UN Criticism of Its Human Rights Record

The foreign NGO "management" law, in the version that was earlier made public, requires that all foreign NGOs register with the Ministry of Public Security, and find a Chinese organization to partner with.

The draft law also banned foreign NGOs from engaging in activities which endanger China's "national unity," "ethnic cohesion," or "public order and morality," and forced them to disclose how all funding is spent and publish details of all the activities they supported.

Xinhua reported that one amendment to the original draft was a phrase broadening the category of groups that the law would apply to. Groups "such as foundations, social groups or think tanks" will be covered by the legislation, it said, which critics say is too vague and could severely limit the operations of social and environmental advocacy groups, besides business organizations and academia.

The law is part of a raft of legislation, including China's counterterrorism law and a draft cyber security law, put forward amid a renewed crackdown on dissent by President Xi Jinping's administration.

The government is making it clear that only state-sanctioned work will be tolerated, Sophie Richardson, Human Rights Watch's China director told the Guardian.

Giving police authority over NGOs was "presumably designed to make all groups think at least twice about which issues they work on, how they work on them, and what the risks to them and their domestic partner organizations will be," she said.

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