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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Lens on NGOs in China and India

Resolve to curtail NGOs’ clout stems from economic resurgence

If one goes by accounts in the global media, the two most populous nations on earth have virtually declared a war on non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Governments in both China and India are getting wary of the influence of NGOs and non-profits to such an extent that they are using legislative means to curb their activities and have gone after their sources of funding.

“Black” law

The Communist Party of China (CPC) has put forth new norms that bar Chinese NGOs from receiving foreign funding. The law will roll out stringent rules for foreign NGOs working in the People’s Republic.

‘The Economist’ has reported that all foreign NGOs in China will need an “official sponsor” and register with the ministry of public security, which is the main police authority in China. Earlier the ministry of civil affairs dealt with regulation governing NGOs. According to some media reports, NGOs will have to submit their activity plan for the coming year to their official sponsor.

This is not some routine bureaucratic shuffle, it gives us a prelude to the thinking of the CPC. NGO workers fear that the moves are designed to weed out organizations, which may be “inconvenient to the Party”. The legislation’s ambit is so sweeping that it encompasses even the activities of foreign academics addressing a Chinese varsity, overseas cultural troupes and trade associations, say the critics.

In an interview with Reuters, Jia Xijin, professor of civil society at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, said the law is a response to the fear of “colour revolutions” – popular uprisings that occurred in former Soviet states -and the Jasmine Revolution, pro-democracy agitations that were snuffed out in Chinese cities in 2011.

Close to a thousand NGOs operate in the Middle Kingdom but Beijing is not keen on having non-profits that champion workers’ rights. According to Reuters, NGO representatives who “subvert state power”, or ” provide financial assistance for political activities” can be detained for up to 15 days, fined up to 300,000 yuan and investigated for “criminal liability”. Recrimination from the West was swift. The European Union expressed its anxiety that the laws would give law-enforcement officials wide-ranging authority to “micro-manage” foreign NGOs and non-profits.

No-aid policy

According a paper presented by the Washington University, after the formation of the People’s Republic in 1949, the Chinese government outlawed most religious organizations, professional societies and labour unions. In this process, foreign NGOs were compelled to leave China. In fact Chairman Mao had contempt for foreign aid, so much so that when millions perished in famines resulting from his disastrous policies he resisted moves to covet assistance from abroad. In contrast, socialists in India, who opposed foreign trade and liberalization, never had any issue with ‘largesse’ from abroad.

In China, since the opening up of economy in the late 1970s under Mao’s successors, the government adopted a more malleable approach towards social organizations, which resulted in an initial emergence of NGOs.

In the 1990s, the government put a new focus on the state’s withdrawal from society. The theme, as advertised by the Chinese government, was “small government, big society.” The number of non-profits, including foreign NGOs, started to increase dramatically during this period, especially after China hosted the fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, the paper states.

Campaign against volunteers

However in recent years, charity groups are under the scanner. In December 2014, China arrested a staffer of an American NGO, Peter Hahn (75), due to his “activities helping North Koreans” along the border with the Hermit Kingdom. Hahn’s trial began in July and while most charges have been dropped, he faces a trivial charge of “counterfeiting receipts”, which means he may get a two-year prison term, if convicted.

In June this year, a report in ‘Radio Free Asia’ said that the authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong detained activists from an NGO on charges of “illegal business activity” Guo Bin, who heads the disability advocacy group Zhongyixing in the southern city of Shenzhen, and health rights campaigner Yang Zhanqing are facing the heat.

India tightens norms

In India, Priya Pillai from an environmental group was stopped at Delhi airport on January 11 while heading to UK to speak on the alleged violation of rights of tribals in Madhya Pradesh. The authorities later said that her name was in a database of persons who were not allowed to leave the country. In September this year, Economic Times reported that the Union home ministry had suspended the registration of activist Teesta Setalvad’s NGO Sabrang Trust under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 2010.

In May 2015, the home ministry put Ford Foundation on its watchlist because funds that were being credited to Indian NGOs were not registered. In June, the permits of more than 4,000 NGOs were annulled by the Centre. Under new rules, every NGO will have to put out details on its website within a week of getting foreign contribution of any value while banks will have to report all such receipts to the government within 48 hours of the offshore transfer.

Critics in both nations have slammed the moves as draconian and said it stems from a desire to “throttle civil liberties”. While the jury is still out on whether or not the regimes have any ulterior motives. It seems the impulses may be from the economic resurgence in China and India. China’s president Xi Jinping talks about the ‘Chinese dream’ that envisages national rejuvenation, improvement of people’s livelihoods, prosperity, construction of a better society and a strengthened military.

India is keen to shed its “begging-bowl” tag. India’s Narendra Modi talks of ‘acche din’ that paint a picture of a ‘superpower’ with bullet trains, hi-speed highways and its knowledge economy at the core. In the larger scheme of things superpower talk and a ‘”poverty expo in backyard” don’t gel. NGOs seem to be bearing the brunt of the image makeover.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.

Source: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/eye-on-china/lens-on-ngos-in-china-and-india

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