New controls on religious groups' work
Beijing has tightened controls on religious groups by imposing restrictions on their charitable activities, complicating their efforts to secure foreign aid.
A document issued by six government departments yesterday, including the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the National Development and Reform Commission, welcomed religious groups performing charity work, and confirmed they were entitled to tax concessions.
But the document also spelt out restrictions: under new regulations, religious groups are prohibited from spreading their beliefs and 'undermining national interests' through charitable activities.
'Charitable operations under religious bodies should stick to the principle of self-reliance, and be free from the influence of external forces,' it said. 'They should not accept subsidies, donations or help from overseas that come attached with political and religious conditions.'It added: 'The religious groups should be subject to the supervision, management and inspection of related government departments. They should report to religious affairs departments that are above the county level when making their annual charity work plan,' the document said.
Authorities said they want to encourage charitable work by religious groups, especially during natural disasters, but are wary of them mingling with overseas organisations.
Wang Liwei, editor of the Chinese-language magazine Charitarian, said: 'There have been more religious groups spreading their faiths through charities in recent years, triggering concern. Some of these groups have not established trust with the government.'
Professor Deng Guosheng of Tsinghua University, who specialises in studying the non-profit sector, said the government wanted to subject religious groups to proper supervision while also encouraging them to be charitable.
In 2010, Beijing tightened rules on foreign donations to non-governmental Chinese organisations, requiring them to present the registration certificates of overseas donors and get approval from authorities before accepting donations of over 1 million yuan (HK$1.23 million).
Deng said NGOs and religious organisations could still obtain foreign donations under the regulations, but this would be complicated.
He added that many grass-roots NGOs on the mainland were experiencing financial difficulties because overseas groups had cut their donations and spending as the financial turmoil in developed countries had resulted in reduced cash-flow.
'The shortage of funds among these NGOs is getting more serious. They have difficulty in getting funds through local donations,' he said. 'We hope overseas groups will not drastically cut spending in China.'
Overseas NGOs are often subjected to scrutiny on the mainland. In February 2010, a notice apparently issued by the Ministry of Education, and which appeared on some Chinese university websites, accused Oxfam of being 'ill-intentioned'.