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China Extends Its Clampdown on Foreign Nonprofits

  • Ken Bredemeier

China's President Xi Jinping looks on during a meeting with Laos' Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith in Beijing, China, Dec. 1, 2016.

Beijing has extended its clampdown on the activities of 7,000 international nonprofit groups in China, its latest effort aimed at curbing foreign influences in the country.

Expanding on a law passed in April, Beijing published a list of activities the foreign groups will be allowed to conduct and gave the groups days to register with police and submit to government supervision before the controls take effect January 1.

Many of the estimated 200 permitted activities are non-controversial, such as work in water conservation, disaster response and vocational training. But the restrictions also cover issues such as legal services, gender equality, disability rights and the rule of law.

Government wants control

Chinese President Xi Jinping has waged a tough campaign against foreign influences in the country, especially activities that might undermine the Beijing government, such as those promoting universal human rights.

Taisu Zhang, a Yale University law professor and an expert on the Chinese law covering the international nonprofits, told VOA the list of allowable activities the Chinese government published Tuesday by the Ministry of Public Security “indicates an increased seriousness on behalf of the government to signal the foreign non-government organizations to step up their compliance with the rules. The government wants to control the messages that the foreign NGOs are sending out.”

He said, “You could imagine some anti-communist human rights group now being affected” by the rules that would limit its activities in China.

Under the law, the international nonprofits must have a government sponsor to continue to operate inside China. Analysts say the effect of the restrictions won't be be fully known until Chinese police and other agencies start accepting, or rejecting, requests for sponsorship.

Warning issued to Americans

Groups working in legal services could be especially vulnerable under the law, which authorities say was necessary to control the unregulated nonprofits and their activities. They must be sponsored and supervised by the Ministry of Justice, which legal-reform advocates say has been antagonistic to the nonprofits.

Since mid-2015, Beijing authorities have jailed, detained or interrogated dozens of human rights lawyers, often accusing them of collaborating with foreign civil rights groups to promote democracy.

A week ago, the U.S. Embassy in Beijing issued a warning that American citizens employed or associated with the nonprofits “may face special scrutiny and/or penalties for noncompliance” with the law after it goes into effect on New Year's Day.

The U.S. and other governments have criticized the law as an attempt by Beijing to control civil society. Some of the nonprofits working in China had hoped that the sponsoring agencies under the law would be dominated by Chinese non-government groups, including think tanks and professional associations. But nearly all the approved supervisory agencies China listed are government-controlled.

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