Hong Kong’s NGOs isolated and confused by mainland China’s new law restricting activities, research finds

Why are groups based in the city that do work over the border considered ‘overseas’, one founder of a local organisation asks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 7:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 October, 2016, 7:00am

The mainland’s adoption of a law governing overseas NGOs has sent a chill throughout the sector in Hong Kong that operates there, with some groups saying they had stopped work over the border, a study has found.

The research, released by the China Philanthropy Research Institute and China Global Philanthropy Institute, found many non-governmental organisations in the city felt alienated and uncertain after the law was passed in April. They said it was especially troubling the law categorised NGOs in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as overseas groups, even though they were based in China.

Organisations interviewed for the study said they felt mainland government agencies had undergone a change in attitude.

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Some reported considerable increase in paperwork, and stricter and more complicated procedures to get projects or activities approved.

Some said their sponsors had asked them to suspend their work on the mainland. Others declined to even be interviewed, citing concerns over the law.

One founder of an unidentified Hong Kong NGO was quoted as saying the group was started in 1998 and all its members were Hongkongers. Given Hong Kong was part of China, they should be treated as local NGO, the founder said.

Hong Kong NGOs are concerned about the new law
Huang Haoming, secretary general, China Association for NGO Cooperation

Under the Law on Management of Domestic Activities of Overseas Non-governmental Organisations, all overseas NGOs must register with and obtain approval from the police rather than the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which their domestic counterparts must do. The requirement takes effect next year.

“Hong Kong NGOs are concerned about the new law,” Huang Haoming, secretary general of the China Association for NGO Cooperation, said.

“I think dialogue should be conducted at the government level to communicate and find a package solution, rather than for each NGO to go through the ­[approval] process one by one.”

Nearly 10,000 overseas philanthropic groups are present on the mainland. Nine Hong Kong NGOs are currently registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs as overseas foundations.

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But more than 100 members of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service were involved in projects on the mainland in 2013 with 2,000 staff members based there, the report quoted the council as saying.

The report said the relationship between NGOs and local governments was fraught with uncertainty, and even for groups with strong ties, it was still unclear how the registration would work, given their work spanned so many areas.

Contributions by Hong Kong NGOs account for the bulk of overseas donations to the mainland, with 8.21 billion yuan given between 2009 and 2014.

In 2014 alone, 1.15 billion yuan (HK$1.32 billion) was given to the mainland, representing 58 per cent of all overseas donations.