China is not known for being particularly friendly towards foreign non-governmental organisations operating on the mainland. Depending on the nature of the work involved, the official attitude towards these bodies may range from scepticism and distrust to hostility and suppression. That said, thousands of organisations still manage to get by, with their impact increasingly felt across the nation. This has prompted what officials say is the need to "better regulate and facilitate" their activities. According to new legislation being scrutinised by the National People's Congress Standing Committee, groups that want to set up office or work temporarily on the mainland need to seek government approval. Details remain scant at this stage but state media reported that the new law aims to "protect NGOs' lawful rights" and to "facilitate their exchange and cooperation". But some NGOs are unconvinced. They believe their growing presence has posed concerns for national security and prompted the authorities to tighten control. The unease caused by the bill is understandable. Since coming to power, President Xi Jinping has rolled out tough measures to strengthen the Communist Party's rule. But the moves have also aroused worries of growing intolerance of political and social dissent. China has long been wary of foreign interference. If it feels its national security and interests are under threat, it has every right to strengthen protection and safeguards. About 1,000 foreign NGOs are currently operating on the mainland on a regular basis. The numbers rise to 3,000 to 5,000 when the temporary ones are also taken into account. It is estimated that the funds channelled by foreign parent groups amount to hundreds of millions of US dollars each year. Given that some NGOs have close connections with their governments, China has the legitimate interest to know more about their operations. It is also in the NGOs' own interests to improve their management and operations. Transparency and accountability are essential. Regulation is not necessarily a bad move. As long as the intention is to provide a healthy environment for NGOs' development, there is no reason to reject the legislation outright. But China also has to recognise that foreign and local NGOs have a positive role to play in civil society. They fill the gaps in government policies and help maintain social harmony by providing relief and redress to those in need.