26 March 2019
Mainland China was the top recipient of donations from Oxfam HK, accounting for 54 percent of the funds in 2013-2014. Photo: Oxfam HK
Mainland China was the top recipient of donations from Oxfam HK, accounting for 54 percent of the funds in 2013-2014. Photo: Oxfam HK

New China law brings anxiety to Hong Kong NGOs

Non-government organizations (NGOs) in Hong Kong that operate in mainland China are watching with anxiety a new law that will regulate the sector and may force them to stop funding some of their clients there.

The official media announced in late December that the new law to “regulate” foreign NGOs was being discussed to increase supervision of this fast-growing sector. The bill requires overseas NGOs to register with and be approved by authorities if they want to set up representative offices or operate temporarily. Currently, they are only required to register.

The bill was drafted by the Ministry of Public Security and not the Ministry of Civil Affairs which is responsible for this sector.

“It is necessary to have a law to regulate, guide and supervise their activities,” said Deputy Public Security Minister Yang Huanning. All levels of government would have to provide policy consultation, assistance and guidance for overseas NGOs so that they can effectively and legally operate on the mainland, Xinhua News Agency reported.

“There are hundreds of foreign NGOs with a background of political infiltration,” said Wang Cunkui, a professor at China People’s Public Security University. “They use helping poor students, poverty relief and human rights as an excuse for their infiltration. They spread opinions and incite opposition to the party and the government.

“They use cooperative programs and scholarly exchanges to export western democratic ideas and spread citizen ideology,” he said.

The mainland represents a major field of operations for many NGOs based in Hong Kong. It ranked first in the countries and regions which received donations from Oxfam HK, accounting for 54 percent of the funds, according to the group’s 2012/2013 annual report. As of March 2014, total funds invested in the mainland rose to HK$1.1 billion (US$141.85 billion), from HK$114 million in 2012.

Friends of the Earth Hong Kong, with 12,000 members, has been active on the mainland since 1992.

Such outside money is vital for many mainland NGOs which are not allowed to raise funds on their own. Many cannot or do not want to register and operate informally, with no legal identity. Current regulations require NGOs to find a government entity as supervisor before it can be registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

But the process is difficult, driving many Chinese and foreign NGOs to operate without proper authorization. In 2013, the government of Xi Jinping set up a national security commission to coordinate responses to domestic and foreign security threats. Officials see some foreign NGOs as a threat in spreading foreign ideas and values.

Shawn Shieh, deputy director of development and operations at China Labour Bulletin in Hong Kong, said the greatest impact of the law would be on NGOs seeking to have an office in China.

“On the positive side, the law will be a way for NGOs that want to set up an office in the mainland to gain legal status. Previously, it has been very difficult for overseas NGOs to register because they were required to find a supervising unit in the government to be their sponsor. The large majority of overseas NGOs in China are either registered as companies or unregistered.

“On the negative side, the law will place more requirements and restrictions on overseas NGOs’ activity,” he said.

In 2009, Yunnan province issued regulations for overseas NGOs which are likely to be repeated in the new law. “The Yunnan regulations made it a requirement for NGOs that wanted to register to disclose their projects and partners in China and their partners had to be registered entities,” Shieh said.

Zeng Feiyan, head of a grassroots organisation in Panyu, Guangdong that lobbies for the rights of ordinary workers, said he estimated many social organizations would be closed down and activities which they organized would be declared illegal.

Most at risk are those involved in sensitive areas, like the rights of factory workers, gays, religious groups and sex workers.

Beijing’s intention may be to replace foreign donations with domestic ones which it can regulate more easily.

According to the official 2013 China Charity Donation Report, donations for that year reached 98.9 billion yuan (US$15.93 billion), up from 81.7 billion yuan in 2012 and 84.5 billion in 2011 but down from 103.2 billion in 2010. Of the money, 70 percent came from companies, 18 percent from individuals and 6.5 percent from social organizations.

The most generous company was Hainan Airlines with 8.51 billion yuan, followed by Century Golden Resources Group with 728 million yuan, Dalian Wanda with 438 million yuan, China Petroleum with 357 million yuan and Minsheng Bank with 323 million yuan.

The biggest single beneficiary was China Charity Federation, which received 34.3 percent of the money, followed by foundations with 38 percent and departments under the Ministry of Civil Affairs with 14 percent.

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Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker

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