In my previous post I discussed the Third Plenum and the fact that the highest echelons of the Communist Party seem to have taken on board the proposed changes in the registration system for CSOs. This post addresses the developments during 2013 since the Third Plenum. Unfortunately the State Council and MCA did not meet the proposed deadline for the new national direct registration rules – 12/31/2013. But all indications are that this is on track for 2014. And, as some provincial level decisions listed below indicate, the local reforms are increasingly addressing the knotty issues.
The blog also addresses the year 2013’s contradictions – the steady stream of good developments discussed here is contrasted with the clampdown on the New Citizens’ Movement (NCM) since April. The two different approaches to different aspects of civil society are entirely irreconcilable, in my view
Moving forward toward direct registration
1. State Council: “Decision 013 to revise 16 regulations” of December 2013 contains information that appears to eliminate the initial examination and approval requirement for registration of foreign chambers of commerce. It provides for direct registration by such chambers with the MCA, rather than first having to be examined and approved by the Chinese International Chamber of Commerce and Ministry of Commerce – perhaps a first step toward eliminating the “dual registration” system for all trade associations and chambers of commerce and select other kinds of social organizations, as envisioned by the State Council timeline in March 2013.
In addition to the change in the foreign chamber of commerce rules, the State Council also made clear that social organizations would no longer be required to register or notify (bei’an) the authorities with respect to branches and subsidiaries. Again, this is a significant development, and it was mentioned by MCA as one of the ten most important developments in 2013, available here.
The March 2103 decision of the State Council on the implementation of “institutional reform of the State Council and the functional transformation plan” task division was very important. (Guo Ban Fa  No. 22) to implement the State Council Reorganization Plan adopted in March 2013; it promised reform of the administrative approval system for CSOs. The timeline had originally indicated that there would be a relaxation of the administrative approval system for all trade associations as well as chambers of commerce, plus technical, charity, social service, and rural community service organizations, should be in place by 12/31/13.
Insiders had already said that the “societies registration regulations” promulgated for the three/four types of social organizations will probably be delayed. See Beijing Times for 2013-11-4, here. They are indicating that revision of the social organizations registration regulations have encountered strong differences of opinion within the State Council.
For the latest developments regarding social organizations and foreign chambers of commerce, see The decision of the State Council on Amending some of the administrative regulations, December 20, 2013. Signed by the State Council Li Keqiang. State Council of the People’s Republic of China, No. 645. Source: People’s Daily. (Xinhua News Agency, Beijing, December 19, 2013).
2. Ministry of Civil Affairs:
A. In mid-December, Minister Li Liguo published a major article in “Seeking Truth” magazine summarizing the MCA’s work plans with regard to implementing the recommendations. He stressed the new view of social governance and the role of social organizations in that process. Among other things he mentioned the following:
(1) efforts to increase government procurement of public services;
(2) the implementation of the plan to have four types of social organization registered directly;
(3) the decoupling of Chambers of Commerce and Industry Associations executives from government; and
(4) the increase in recognition of foreign social organizations (this was quite vague).
B. On December 24, 2013, the Ministry announced the creation of a “charity information project” under the leadership of the Social Welfare and Charity Promotion Department of the Ministry, the China Charity Federation, and Global Charity magazine. This is seen as a direct follow-on to the Third Plenum’s emphasis on promoting charity and private (including corporate) philanthropy.
3. Ministry of Finance: Picking up on the first theme in Minister Li’s article, a circular was published on December 12, which describes the government procurement processes from social organizations. It is described on the MCA website at http://www.chinanpo.gov.cn/1938/72908/index.html. The text is available at http://www.chinanpo.gov.cn/2351/72810/index.html.
4. Bureau of Social Organizations’ Registration and Management: Wang Jianjun, Director General of the Bureau, gave a speech describing how the Bureau expects to implement the Third Plenum’s recommendations. The speech was made to the Network of Chinese Social Organizations.
5. Provincial developments: Among these it appears that there will be some new developments with regard to direct registration at the provincial level, at least in 2014, based on a report from Guangdong Province’s Bureau of Civil Affairs (BCA) and posted on the MCA website. According to Director Liu of the BCA, “the ‘Guangdong Provincial Social Organization Regulations’ will be included in the 2014 annual Guangdong People’s Congress legislative plan.”
This is a major change – it suggests that rather than making the policy change as an administrative (regulations promulgated by the State Council) matter, this will be taken up as a legislative matter. While it will take longer if it is placed on the legislative agenda, it will have more staying power at the end of the day. The policy debates will be useful as the new rules are developed at the provincial level. One issue that came up in Guangdong, was the question of permission to register alumni associations, which had never been considered among the 4 types of organizations to be permitted to register directly with MCA.
The Jiangsu Province BCA has also announced that it is delegating downward to the appropriate levels the registration authority for all types of foundations. While limited to one type of CSO, this is also significant.
More on these issues will be reported in the next issue of IJCSL, which will come out in late January.
The principal contradiction
After his travails with Gongmeng in 2009 (see the Preface to my book, Civil Society in China, 2013), Xu Zhiyong, was once again in the line of sight of the Chinese government in 2013. Xu Zhiyong is now a principal in the New Citizens’ Movement (NCM). Their manifesto was written by Mr. Xu and published in 2012. (New Citizens’ Movement, 2012). He and others in the movement also penned “The Chinese Citizens’ Pledge” in 2010. (Xu Zhiyong, et al: “The Chinese Citizens’ Pledge”, 2010).
As the historical record indicates, Mr. Xu has been a longtime advocate of legal reform and a critic of the one-party system in China. He was arrested again in July 2013. Mr. Xu faces up to five years in prison for the crime of “organizing a crowd to disrupt public order,” after a series of small-scale protests by members of the nongovernmental NCM. The indictment filed against Mr. Xu claims that he organized and encouraged parents to demonstrate in front of the Education Ministry for the right to enroll their children in local schools and organized protests against official corruption.
The NCM initiative has one of its landmark campaigns a call for officials to publicly declare their assets (seems okay for the government to try to root out corruption, but ordinary citizens are not permitted to do so!). According to one source, more than 130 people involved in the New Citizens’ Movement have been detained or arrested. Another list puts the number at just 30. (Paul Mooney email to Karla Simon of December 29, 2013, on file with the author).
All of these developments are being posted to the newly re-launched Civil Society listserv (it had to move from CUA when I resigned). Here are the subscription instructions:
The listserv is for people interested in civil society in China. It has over 500 subscribers, including legal academics, academics in other disciplines, practitioners, and journalists. They live in many parts of the world, including China. Conversations on the old site have been quite robust and have helped to contribute to the scholarship and knowledge of list members. The subscription information is as follows:
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Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is chairperson of ICCSL