Beijing has given another clear sign of its determination to strengthen control of mainland society by arguing that the Communist Party and the government should not easily delegate social management powers and functions.
In an article published in Qiushi magazine yesterday, Zhou Benshun, general secretary of the party's Political and Legislative Affairs Commission, said China must not follow the experiences introduced by Western countries and must perfect 'a social management system with Chinese characteristics'.
'[The system should be] led by the party, and the government should be responsible for it,' Zhou said in a piece entitled 'Social management can't fall into the trap of 'civil society',' warning that authorities must regulate NGOs to stop the growth of groups with 'ulterior motives'.
Qiushi, which translates as 'seeking truth', is the flagship magazine of the Central Party School, the top training centre for party officials.
The discussion on how to improve 'social management' has become a major topic in political circles since February, when President Hu Jintao introduced the phrase at a Politburo meeting.
The country's 12th five-year plan for 2011 to 2015, approved by the National People's Congress in March, for the first time devoted a separate section to of 'social management'. It explicitly mentioned delegating certain government agency functions to social organisations.
Vice-President Xi Jinping also repeatedly highlighted the importance of innovative social management during the NPC's annual meeting and on a later fact-finding trip to Hunan .
It is the second time in two weeks the magazine has published articles by top officials from the law and order sector on social management, the party's term for maintaining control and boosting stability.
Earlier this month, Zhou Yongkang, head of the party's political and legislative affairs commission and the Politburo Standing Committee member in charge of security, proposed building the world's biggest identification database, based on identity card information.
Zhou Benshun's article listed three kinds of wrongdoing in mainland social management, arguing that instead of giving up too much responsibility to NGOs or establishing too many NGOs, authorities must put all NGOs under their control and make them just 'an important supplement' to the social management system led by the party.
'It is wrong for people to believe that, in foreign countries, NGOs isolated from governments are responsible for major social management tasks ...' the article said. 'On the contrary, most foreign NGOs have government backgrounds and are controlled by governments.'
Some political analysts said they were not surprised to see Beijing trying to tighten its control. They estimated mainland NGOs would be given less breathing space and fewer opportunities to act on social issues.
'But in some cases the authorities will still need the NGOs, without which the officials might find it hard to finish their jobs,' a Guangzhou-based political analyst said, pointing out that it was the NGOs, not government-backed institutes, that raised the most money after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.