By EDWARD WONG, New York Times, April 25, 2016
BEIJING — China is moving closer this week to a new law that would strictly control thousands of foreign nongovernmental organizations in the country, state-run news agencies reported on Monday.
Officials are expected to give rapid approval to what may be the final draft of the law, the reports said.
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 White House issued a statement in September saying there were concerns that the law would “further narrow space for civil society in China.” American officials urged the Chinese government to drop or make drastic revisions to the legislation, as well as to other sweeping draft security laws that would limit or hobble foreign operations in China, including businesses.
The third and possibly final draft of the law has not been published for public review. A report on Monday by Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said the draft had just been submitted to a session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, a body set up to approve Communist Party policy. The report said a committee had suggested that the law would be put up for a vote after two readings at the current session, which ends on Thursday.
Xinhua said some changes from the second draft meant there would be fewer restrictions. For example, it said, the new draft would allow foreign nongovernmental organizations to have more than one office in China. But the number and locations of branch offices would need approval by regulators.
In addition, the current draft, as described by Xinhua, would require such groups to disclose how they spent all their funding and to publicly report all the activities they supported.
Starting with the first draft, the most onerous proposed restriction has been a requirement that each foreign nongovernmental organization must register with the police, or Ministry of Public Security, and must find an official partner group in China willing to take responsibility for all the actions of the nongovernmental organization.
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.”
Critics of earlier drafts said those drafts were so broadly worded that any foreign university or educational group trying to work or hold activities in China would be subject to the new law and police oversight. The Xinhua report implied that might not be the case, but the wording was vague.
Jeremy L. Daum, a senior researcher at the China Center at Yale Law School, wrote on the China Law Translate blog on Monday that the wording used by Xinhua left “foreign and domestic organizations guessing what activities might be covered.”
Mr. Daum also said the new draft, as outlined by Xinhua, would allow the police even more powers over foreign nongovernmental organizations, beyond the earlier proposed abilities to search offices at any time, limit incoming funds, cancel activities and revoke registration. According to Xinhua, the current draft says the police have the authority to summon representatives to give them a “talking to.” Security officers have long been able to do that, but the law would make that authority explicit.
China has not previously had rules allowing for official registration of foreign nongovernmental organizations, forcing many to operate in a legal gray area here. Legal experts have said such rules should be put in place.
But the same experts have also said it makes no sense for oversight and registration of such groups to be given to the Ministry of Public Security. The Civil Affairs Ministry would be a more suitable institution, they say.