Beijing should tread carefully as it regulates NGOs, foreign and domestic
Foreign non-governmental organisations have lived with the threat of being driven out of the mainland on security grounds under a proposed Foreign NGO Management Law finalised in June. The law would also harm domestic NGOs that rely on them for funding. It was therefore encouraging that in remarks to representatives of a group of NGOs in Shanghai, Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun sought to ease fears about the effect of the new law and even pledged to help NGOs in their operations.
China is not known for being particularly friendly towards foreign non-governmental organisations, with attitudes ranging from distrust to hostility and suppression, depending on the nature of work involved. Official unease about foreign origins or indirect foreign funding has prompted concerns that they are potential vehicles of foreign interference.
Day to day, however, a rapidly developing economy like China's leaves plenty of scope for NGOs to cover gaps in essential services and address problems that slip through the social safety net.
It would be a shame if they were driven out by a law that will subject them to police oversight, conveying the view that they are potential subversive forces that could threaten national security.
Guo told the representatives that the authorities appreciated NGOs' contribution to the country's social development, and went on to make flattering observations about their role in deepening international cooperation in economics, science, education, health care and environmental protection.
Regulation is not necessarily a bad move if it provides a healthy environment for NGOs development. We trust that the new rules are indeed designed to provide a legal framework for NGOs operating in the country and to safeguard their interests. They are an important part of civil society and it is in the interests of ordinary mainlanders that their activities are not unduly curtailed when this law is implemented.