Foreign NGO Law

The Return of the Mother-in-Law

Article 11 of the new Foreign NGO Management Law that is due to go into effect on January 1, 2017, will require foreign NGOs operating in China to “obtain consent of a professional supervisory unit.” The list of the approved supervisory units has yet to be released.

Upon reading that provision, my first reaction was to think that this is merely a reversion to the way things were “back in the day,” by which I mean the 80s and 90s. At that time, organizations wishing to be involved in China did have to work through a sponsoring unit—usually the State Bureau of Foreign Experts (which later changed it’s name to the rather clunky State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs). Some used to refer to it as the government “mother-in-law.”

Each year, organizations had to file reports and seek the coveted “seal of approval” in order continue operations for another year. There was no body of law that stipulated this; it was just the way things were done. Or, as the Chinese say, “有规定” (“you guiding,” there is a regulation).

Over time, as China’s development went into turbo-drive, things relaxed, and multiple avenues of engaging in China opened up; the need to be tied to a supervisory unit was relaxed, and sometimes ignored.

But now the supervisory unit is back, only this time with a lot more power and the Public Security Bureau (PSB) in tow.

The new law requires the PSB to sign off on registrations and grants the supervisory units power to oversee all aspects of NGO management, including hiring of local staff and financial transactions. This was not the case previously.

In other words, foreign NGOs that are currently working in China are going to have some hard choices to make going forward. Will they seek registration, and the accompanying oversight by the government and police? Or will they decide that’s too high a price to pay?

The day when these questions need to be answered is fast approaching.

Image credit: Silhouette, by Johnathan Nightengale, via Flickr.