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Foreign NGO draft would 'regulate, not restrict' operations

By Cao Yin and Luo Wangshu (chinadaily.com.cn)

Updated: 2016-03-04 20:18:27


Lawmakers are discussing and collecting opinions on legislation related to overseas NGOs, in a move to provide the legal foundation for the organizations to develop in China, a spokeswoman for the annual session of China's top legislature said on Friday.

The legislation covering the behavior of overseas NGOs has already been discussed twice in the NPC standing committee, and a draft of it draft has been published online to solicit opinions from home and abroad, said Fu Ying, spokeswoman for the fourth session of the 12th National People's Congress.

Fu confirmed that the draft has drawn attention because it is related to the interests of overseas NGOs and the activity of foreign individuals in China.

More than 7,000 overseas NGOs are active in China, including those engaged in environmental, technological, educational and cultural industries, she said, adding that their work benefits China.

"The legislation is to regulate overseas NGOs' activities, clarifying which behaviors are illegal," she said. "What we want is to lay a legal foundation for how they operate, not restrict their development."

It is still uncertain when the draft will be submitted to the committee for discussion, she added.

Deng Guosheng, vice-dean of Tsinghua University's Institute for Philanthropy, said that many overseas NGOs cannot register in China because there is no law specifically applicable to them.

"The gap in the law has brought difficulties for some foreign NGOs in hiring processes or opening bank accounts," Deng said. "Some are forced to register as enterprises that are not eligible for tax deduction policies."

The gap also leaves governments without a clear idea of the status of foreign NGOs, let alone knowledge of what and where they are, he said.

In Deng's view, different types of foreign NGOs should fall under different legal categories, "because some are agents solely representing the interests of their foreign headquarters, while some only engage in charity, so their developmental aims in China are different."

Deng suggested the legislation should clearly answer what foreign NGOs it applies to, "as academic activity sponsored by foreign universities and for international communication is also a kind of charitable organization."

Another question is whether the same rules should apply for foreign and domestic NGOs. One major international independent organization for children has voiced that it wants to be treated the same way local charities are.

"In the UK, we see charities registered with the charities commission under the same rules as Save the Children. UK-headquartered and non-UK ones are treated in the same way," wrote Pia MacRae, country director of Save the Children in China.