New Regulation in Guangzhou to worsen the survival of NGOs

NGOs in China have gone through an extreme tough year in 2014: nationally and locally, openly and secretly passing regulations to restrict their activities, cutting off funding and forcibly disappearances of directors, some continuously lived under the threat of an immediate ban from the authority. Overseas NGOs, NGOs which are working on sensitive issues, such as labour, rights-defending, religious and LGBT rights, are considered as a thorn in the Chinese Government’s side and face most of the repression.

Currently, nearly a thousand of overseas NGOs have long-term projects operating in China and if those with short-term cooperation are counted, the number could exceed 6,000. Each year, overseas NGOs could bring hundreds of millions of US dollars into China. According to Professor Wang Cunkui of People's Public Security University of China, among them, “several hundreds are politically infiltrated”, which using poverty alleviation, schooling, rights-defending and aid programmes as cover-ups, to conduct infiltration in China. He further accused them of creating public opinions through their “rights-defending” programmes, to incite hostility between people, the Party and the Government; or through joint projects, academic exchanges and interviews, to bring in the Western style of democracy and promote “citizenship” education among the general public.

Banning NGOs with unauthorized preparatory activities

The repression against NGOs is not only limited to overseas NGOs. On 16 October 2014, the Civil Affairs Bureau of Guangzhou City has issued a “Guangzhou City’s Working Regulation on Banning Illegal Social Organizations (Draft)” (hereafter: Regulation), calling for a ban on social organizations with “unauthorized preparatory activities of a social organization”. This Regulation created heated debates in the media. NGOCN, a charity website in Guangzhou had conducted a survey and among the 221 valid responses, 64.9% of the staff members of NGOs said their organization would be affected by this Regulation, if it would be passed.

“I believe many social organization would be banned. Our Migrant Workers’ Centre would be taken down.” Zeng Feiyang, director of one of the first grassroots organizations to support workers’ rights told us. It is the worst of the draconian laws to ban “unauthorized preparatory activities of a social organization”, he described. “Where is our freedom of association (guaranteed by Constitution) then? This Regulation itself is violating our Constitution.”. Zheng Ziyin, council member of Guangzhou City’s Federation of Social Organizations and lawyer of Lawsons Law Office, estimated that if this Regulation would be passed, then people who dance in the city’s plazas would be considered as conducting “unregistered activities operated by unauthorized social organizations” and this activity should be banned.

A NGO’s 17 years of existence without registration

This Regulation is a microcosm to demonstrate the hardship social organizations in Guangzhou endure. It was around 2012, when social organizations could attempt to directly register at Civil Affairs Bureau in certain pilot cities, and until now, a vast number of NGOs remain unregistered. Panyu Migrant Workers Documentation Centre (PMWDC) has been serving workers in Guangzhou for 17 years. When it tried to register at the Civil Affairs Bureau, it was told that “currently there is no guideline to register labour and rights-defending NGOs”. Another organization which supports the families of homosexuals, was also turned down by the same reason.

Informants from the Guangzhou Municipal Federation of Trade Unions told us that the Government has secretly listed as Zeng’s organization as foreign supported and it would not allow its registration. Yet, many unregistered social organizations have maintained a very subtle relationship with the Government. Many leaders of social organizations said they kept regular contacts with the State Security Bureau and ACFTU, actively reported to the authorities while defending rights for their clients.

Purchasing NGOs’ services = Authority’s means to disarm

The second half year of 2014 has been a long winter for NGOs. In September 2014, Zeng Feiyang was told that if his Migrant Workers’ Centre would continue to be funded by foreign foundations, it would be banned. Currently, about 70% of his organization’s funding comes from overseas. Many labour and gay rights organizations have reflected that starting from in 2014, the authority has interrogated them and monitored their overseas funding more frequently.

At the same time, the Civil Affairs Bureau announced that in 2015, it will conduct pilot projects to separate industry associations and chambers of commerce from administrative bodies, to improve the Government’s mechanism in purchasing public services, to innovate the supervision of Government and social monitoring, and to strengthen the regulation of overseas NGOs in China. A labour activist Chen Huihai observed some labour NGOs and concluded that after joining the Government’s services purchasing programmes, these organizations would stop campaigning for workers’ rights, but shift their attention to organize recreational activities. In reality, purchasing their services means disarming them.

Another NGO’s leader who wants to remain anonymous explained that the Government did purchase or through venture philanthropy to support NGOs’ development, but mainly in the area of civil affairs, such as poverty alleviation and supporting organizations of elderly and disabled. He said, “NGOs have no space at all. The difference between them is just some survive better, some have pressure and some simply vanish.”

source: Mingpao Daily (HK), 3 January 2015 (translation by HKCTU)