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The New Normal for Faith-Based, Foreign NGOs in China

Key Provisions of the New Law

The Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations' Activities within Mainland China was passed on April 28, 2016 and will take effect January 1, 2017.

A cursory reading of this unofficial English translation[1] gives some indication of how the law will affect faith-based non-profits that work in China.

Key provisions include:

  • “Foreign NGOs" as used in this law refers to not-for-profit, non-governmental social organizations lawfully established outside mainland China, such as foundations, social groups, and think tank institutions. (Article 2)
  • Foreign NGOs within mainland China must not engage in or fund for-profit activities or political activities, and must not illegally engage in or fund religious activities. (Article 5)
  • Foreign NGOs carrying out activities within mainland China shall conduct them through lawfully registered and established representative offices.Foreign NGOs applying to register and establish a representative office shall obtain the consent of a professional supervisory unit. The Public Security Department under the State Council and the public security organs of provincial level people's governments, together with the relevant departments, shall publish a directory of professional supervisory units. (Articles 10 and 11)
  • Where foreign NGOs that have not established a representative office in mainland China carry out temporary activities within mainland China, they shall cooperate with state organs, mass organizations, public institutions, or social organizations (hereinafter "Chinese Partner Units") to do so. (Article 16)
  • Foreign NGOs and their representative offices must not fundraise within mainland China. (Article 21)
  • Units and individuals in mainland China must not accept retention, funding, agency, or covert agency to carry out foreign NGOs' activities in mainland China, from foreign NGOs that have not registered a representative office or filed to carry out temporary activities. (Article 32)
  • Public security organs are responsible for the registration of foreign NGO representative offices, annual inspections, and filing of temporary activities by foreign NGOs; and for the investigation and handling of illegal conduct by foreign NGOs and their representative offices. (Article 41)
  • Foreign NGOs [engaging in unauthorized activities] may be entered onto an unwelcome list by the public security department under the State Council and must not again establish representative offices or carry out temporary activities within mainland China. (Article 48)
  • Foreigners found in violation of the regulations may be detained for up to 15 days, expelled, or subject to criminal persecution. (Articles 47 and 50)

The regulations contain detailed mechanisms for registration, finances, oversight, and reporting, all of which will need to be implemented by the Ministry of Public Security and other government organs between now and the end of the year. While there are still many unanswered questions about how the law will be carried out, it would be wise to start thinking now about the potential impact of this new legislation. 

Image credit: Wikipedia, modified.
Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Dr. Fulton served as the first president of ChinaSource until 2019. Prior to his service with ChinaSource, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding …View Full Bio

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