Civil society developments in China


Karla Simon

Karla Simon

Karla Simon

January was a huge month for civil society developments in China and many of them are noteworthy. They involved a variety of issues, including more provinces adopting the direct registration regime, and the recognition by MCA that it cannot manage to oversee all the new directly registered organizations on its own.  But a solution to the problem has been found, and it is a typically Chinese one – outsource the work to outside agencies.

Results of direct registration – problems it causes for MCA and the solution
Wang Jianjun, Director General of the Bureau of CSO Registration and Management (the Bureau) in the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA), made a major speech in early January.  He said that there are fewer than 3,300 civil affairs officials nationwide, while the number of registered NPOs reached 511,000 by the end of the third quarter of 2013. Wang further said that the supervisory task for the Bureau has become much heavier now that the central government has decided to allow four types of CSOs — industrial associations, charities, community services organizations, and organizations dedicated to the promotion of technology — to directly register with civil affairs departments.

Accordingly, the Bureau has entered into an agreement with Shanghai Jiaotong University to set up a research center on “third sector organizations.”  Concurrently Wang Jianjun and officials from the university announced that the Social Sciences Academic Press also released its annual Report on Social Organizations’ Evaluation in China (2013). The research for this report was jointly conducted by the Bureau, the Center for Third Sector Organizations of Shanghai Jiaotong University, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The report revealed, among other things, that about 12 of 63 surveyed foundations had failed to complete sound financial reports and that many CSOs lack trained talent.

Moving forward with direct registration
As in previous months, MCA announced that several provinces had advanced their agenda to allow direct registration to proceed.  This happened in Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. Direct registration for the limited scope of 4 types of CSOs has been piloted in 26 provinces and five self-governing municipalities, which has enabled more than 19,000 CSOs to register directly with the civil affairs departments, abandoning pre-examination and approval by other regulators.

In addition, Minister of Civil Affairs Li Liguo visited the “social organization registration hall” across the street from the Ministry. He urged the staff to learn more about the feasibility of web-site consultations and release the telephone number for daily counseling. He suggested they must listen carefully to people’s opinions and suggestions.

The 2014 reform agenda
While not necessarily path breaking, MCA has announced the reform agenda for CSOs in 2014.  It covers a lot of the same ground as items discussed in the blog I wrote about the Third Plenum. On the other hand, the new national regulations on direct registration will probably not be out until April – they were pushed back because of the priority of the social security legislation. 

Fourth Annual Charity Conference
This was held in Beijing on January 17 and 18.  It was very well attended and many speeches were given. The one by Minister Li Liguo was perhaps the most significant.  Minister Li said that the charity law is on the five-year plan of the NPC, but in the meantime several provinces or self-governing municipalities are moving forward with regulations for charity organizations. These include, in addition to Shenzhen, Fujian and Shaanxi. He also discussed MCA’s plans for strengthening charity institutions and charitable giving. For a rough English translation, read here.

The meeting also launched the initiative “Eight hours of voluntary service for EVERYONE.”  This calls on all residents in China to join the ranks of volunteer service and contribute in this manner to society.

Foundation meeting – on the proposed regulations
An important meeting was held in Beijing on January 23-24, where reforms of the foundation regulations were discussed. 50 foundation leaders from directly registered foundations and a number of staff members of MCA attended the meeting. It was chaired by DG Wang Jianjun.

China Charity News
Launched by the China Charity Federation, this new service gives the reader access to many important charity projects throughout China.

“Charity Supermarket” initiative announced
MCA recently issued an Opinion “on the strengthening and building of innovative charity supermarkets.” This requires civil affairs departments at all levels to promote the charity supermarkets, and to actively respond to elevating their weak capacity, lowering their high operating costs, and increasing their self-management capacity.  MCA believes that such an initiative will improve social services for the public, especially for poor people.


Third Plenum

The English translation of the Third Plenum, concluding document was not available in time for my December post, but it is now and this is what it says:
48. Kindling the vigor of social organizations. We will correctly handle the relationship between the government and society, intensify efforts to separate government administration and social organizations, encourage the social organizations to clarify their rights and obligations, and enforce self-management and play their role in accordance with the law. Social organizations should be commissioned to provide public services that they are apt to supply and tackle matters that they are able to tackle. We will support and develop volunteer service organizations. We will achieve a true disconnection of trade associations and chambers of commerce from administrative departments, prioritize fostering and development of such social organizations as trade associations and chambers of commerce, scientific and technological associations, charity and philanthropic organizations, and urban and rural community service organizations. These organizations can directly apply for registration in accordance with the law when they are established. We will strengthen the management of social organizations and foreign NGOs in China, and guide them to carry out their activities in accordance with the law.

New Citizens’ Movement
With the conviction and sentencing of Xu Zhiyong on January 26, 2014, it seems that efforts to submerge this group will continue.  Others are now on trial and there has been at least one guilty plea.
What this means in the long term for civil society in China remains to be seen.  But it seems clear that Xu’s sentence of 4 years is designed to send a message to all groups that threaten the party-state because of their organizational capabilities.

Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is chairperson of ICCSL

Tagged in: China

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