Blog EntriesChurch and State

Under the Microscope?

If you work for a foreign NGO in China and have had the feeling that it has been under a bit more scrutiny lately, it seems that you are not imagining things.

Several media outlets are now reporting that the newly-created National Security Commission, headed by President Xi Jinping, has directed a number of provincial security bureaus to launch investigations into foreign NGO's. Information about the intended probe first appeared (leaked?) on a Shanxi government website, but has since been deleted.

Here is the article published by Reuters on June 20:

China has quietly begun a probe into the operations of foreign non-government bodies in the country, to prepare for tighter regulations in future, as part of a security drive ordered by a new national panel headed by President Xi Jinping.

Non-government organisations have mushroomed in China in recent years, and can have a confrontational relationship with the government, especially if they work with sensitive groups, such as sex workers or drug addicts.

Many foreign NGOs also operate in China, though they have traditionally registered as businesses as the approval process is easier. Beijing has treated some of them with suspicion, worried they may try and spread foreign values.

While the government requires all NGOs in China to register with it, the process is often difficult, driving many Chinese and foreign NGOs to operate under the radar.

The probe into the activities of foreign NGOs emerged after a website of the Yuncheng city government in the northern province of Shanxi published details this week, apparently inadvertently, which were picked up by Chinese media on Friday.

It is highly unlikely that government officials your organization deals with will come out and tell you that you are being investigated, but there are some things you may expect to see.

First of all, if you are in the process of registration renewal or obtaining permission to launch a particular project, it may suddenly seem more difficult than it was before. You may be asked more questions or asked to produce documentation that you've never been asked before. The officials you deal with don't want to risk their jobs by allowing groups under their supervision to "cause trouble."

Secondly, Chinese personnel who work for you organization may be "invited" to answer questions about your organization. If your organization is relatively new, this may be a first for them (and you), and can be quite intimidating. If your organization has been operating in China for a long time and your Chinese staff has been a part of your work for that time, then they (and you) have probably gone through this before.

While these periodic crackdowns can be unnerving, they are a good reminder to all foreigners working in China that doing so is a privilege, not a right.

Note: Yesterday, Brent Fulton wrote about China's schizophrenic NGO policies, likening them to the popular U2 song "With or Without You" (in what may be the first ever U2 reference in a ChinaSource Blog post).

Image credit: University of Liverpool, via Flickr

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio