News from China: roll-out of plan to allow CSOs to directly register, the earthquake response and other developments

 

Karla Simon

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Karla Simon

Karla Simon

Pursuant to the plan announced by the National People’s Congress (NPC) in March and the follow-up decision to create a timeline of the expected changes to be carried out by the State Council, China Daily has recently reported that the plan now states that establishing four categories of CSOs ‒ industrial associations, charities, community services and organizations dedicated to promoting science and technology ‒  will entail direct registration with civil affairs authorities, abandoning pre-examination and approval by other regulators. While there has been some confusion about how many different categories of CSOs will qualify, the latest statements by civil affairs officials to newspapers indicate that the categories have been clarified and refined. One assumes that there will need to be clarifying rules issued in addition to the major regulations establishing this new direct registration policy.

Officials have called the plan as ‘a major breakthrough’ for the development of CSOs in China, predicting that empowered organizations will be a driving force for the country’s development in the coming three decades. As explained in an earlier post, this plan is part of a major economic reform package, the elements of which entail moving forward with plans to implement the ‘small government/big society’ slogan by creating more CSOs to which social services can be outsourced.

It is also relevant that about 1 million CSOs either operate without legal identity or have to register as companies because of the current registration policy. In terms of the types of organizations covered by the new rules, it is important that there were more than 490,000 CSOs at the end of 2012, of which 85 per cent were of the above four types, according to the ministry.

Commentators are cautiously optimistic. ‘We have repeatedly heard “spring is coming for NGOs” for many years but have always felt let down. But, this time, I think it really is coming,’ said Deng Guosheng, a professor who specializes in CSO studies at Tsinghua University. ‘Before, we had hints from the Ministry of Civil Affairs, but this time round it’s an NPC decision, one with legal backup.’ Wang Ming, Deng’s fellow researcher at Tsinghua, said the reform of the registration system reflects a fundamental shift in official attitudes toward these organizations and marks the starting point in another round of social reform, following the market-oriented reforms that began in 1978.

The categories of domestic CSOs that will not be permitted to register directly include ‘religious, legal, and political’ CSOs. The precise meaning of the terms is unclear, but some experts think that there is a good rationale for not allowing direct registration for them. For example, religious organizations are regulated by the State Administration of Religious Affairs (SARA), as are their charities. Public-interest law firms, like regular law firms, must be regulated by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), even though MoJ has as yet issued no regulations for the public interest firms. Political organizations, such as the five ‘democratic parties’ in China (aside from the CCP) are regulated by the United Front Department of the Party, which means that MCA would have no jurisdiction over them either.

A fourth category that will not be directly registered is foreign organizations. At present only branch offices of foreign foundations may register (with a sponsor). CSOs operating in Yunnan Province are allowed to be ‘recognized’ by the authorities. MCA officials have said that another aspect of the reforms that will be carried out by 31 December is to clarify the status of all types of foreign organizations.

Sichuan earthquake

A 6.6 magnitude earthquake struck on 20 April 2013 near Ya’an in Sichuan Province. While the temblor was not as strong as that in 2008, there was widespread devastation and misery because of the steep rural area in which the epicentre lies. Four different aspects of the disaster response deserve to be mentioned.

  • Donations to government-related charities are way off, and MCA has admitted that people find the independent organizations and giving platforms to be more transparent. The statistics are fairly amazing, when one compares, for example, the One Foundation set up by Jet Li with the amounts raised by the scandal-plagued Red Cross Society.
  • There are issues about too many volunteers, which are covered extensively in some news outlets.
  • Some donations from greater China have not been made – for example, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council refused to pass a bill that would have transferred substantial sums for earthquake relief because the elected officials feared it would end up ‘in the hands of corrupt Chinese officials!’
  • How to donate: China Development Brief has posted a list of CSOs that the Chinese staff members consider to be reliable.

Charity prizes awarded

On 19 April the government gave dozens of individuals and corporations the country’s highest charity award for the charitable efforts in 2012. Twenty individuals received the ‘most charitable donor’ award, including Gu Runjin, president of Perfect (China) Co, Ltd, the organizing committee for the China Charity Award announced at an award ceremony held in Beijing. Billionaire Cao Dewang, president of Fuyao Glass Industry Group Co Ltd, received the award for the third time in as many years. Twenty philanthropic projects and 40 companies also received awards, including the China Three Gorges Corporation and the Shanghai-based Baosteel Group Corporation. The awards were given based on online votes from 4.5 million people, the committee said.

China Charity Alliance announced

The establishment of the China Charity Alliance was announced at the same ceremony, with Civil Affairs Minister Li Liguo as its president. Li promised to improve disciplinary management in the field and to maintain development in charitable undertakings. Aimed at promoting transparency and cooperation in China’s booming philanthropic sector, the alliance has more than 160 members, including property tycoon Wang Jianlin, president of Wanda Group, and Yang Lan, a famous TV anchorwoman.

Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is Research Professor of Law at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law. She splits her time between Beijing and the Washington, DC area

Tagged in: Awards China CSOs Legal developments Regulations


Comments (3)

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Karla

Dear Readers, Mr. Fisher does us a service by pointing out that the English language news media in China is censored. But lest this confuse some who perhaps do not understand China all that well, all media are censored in China, which means that no newspaper reports are uncensored (unless they are simple publications of official statements, such as the State Council plan I recently quoted in Chinese). There is an entity recently retitled the General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, which makes high level orders about what can be published. The agency is sarcastically called the "Ministry of Truth" by Chinese journalists. There are also internal censors at the newspapers themselves, to ensure that they toe the line. Thus it truly does not matter whether I cite English language or Chinese language sources, and the English language ones can be read by all of you, while the Chinese language ones probably cannot. Some of the more bizarre recent developments from GAPPRFT -- Chinese newspapers are only to publish "good news" about the recent earthquake. And just today (April 28), there is a new ban on the use of foreign media in the Chinese media! While it is possible to find other sources of information on developments in China on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, that is also filtered, and objectionable posts are frequently taken down. Further some of the posts are from highly unreliable sources, and I use them only infrequently, generally to recognize trends, such as the trend toward giving to online platforms and grass roots organizations after the Ya'an earthquake. It should be obvious from all this censorship that China does not respect the freedom of expression, as well as other important internationally respected freedoms, and its imprisonment of famous activists is a small example of that fact. In fact, although China is not a state party to the ICCPR (the civil and political rights treaty, which it has signed but not ratified), it is a party to the ICESCR (the covenant on economic, social, and cultural rights). It is also important to know that the UN treaty review body has noted deficiencies with respect to China's obligations under that treaty. But media, freedom of expression, and dissidents are not my area of speciality. What I have chosen to focus on is the legal framework for CSOs and for charitable giving. This is something I have indeed been working on since before the 1998 regulations were adopted, and it is well-documented. Mr. Fisher, having not read my book, does not to know the facts. Other scholars focus on dissidents and media freedoms. But that is surely their choice, just as focusing on the things I write about is mine. I would add that in the 2013 book introduction and in a paper I am now working on, I address the closing of Gongmeng and the arrest and detention (short) of its founder a dissident named Xu Zhiyong. But that is within the scope of my carefully circumscribed field of inquiry. Finally let me add that Mr. Fisher misstates my record and appears to willfully lead people to believe that I somehow have only written a co-authored 2004 report on tax preferences for CSOs in China. Everyone else seems to be familiar with my work both before and since then -- the numerous articles, a book chapter, a co-authored 2010 book, and my most recent publication -- a single-authored book published in 2013. Further, I have taught law twice at Beida and been contracted by various international agencies and private foundations to conduct work in China over varying lengths of time. Surely I can stand on my record of scholarship, active work, and teaching in China and not have to argue any further with Mr. Fisher's uncivil attacks! My very best, Karla


George Fisher

It should be instructive to your readers that you see China Daily a credible source in these matters. The editors will be congratulated by their superiors that one of their efforts to spin and propagandize foreigners has worked exactly as intended. Apparently, the imprisonment of dissidents is not an issue for you. Would you say that Liu Xiaobo's jailing contributed to civil society in China? Gao Zhisheng'sdisappearance? Those events happened during the very time that "remarkable" things were happening in China. But the imprisonment of a Nobel Peace Prize winner will not impede your self- celebration and self-promotion. That is dismaying. Baosteel and the Three Gorges Corporation rec'd awards for charity? That's a sign of civil society? What an extraordinary claim. Your unfamiliarity with Chinese matters is nothing short of breathtaking. But given that you have not worked in or on China for 18 years as you claim (your publications are on other subjects such as tax codes), that should not be surprising. That you continue to claim otherwise is.


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