Some NGOs hard-pressed to identify appropriate authority
China on Tuesday released a catalogue clarifying who is responsible for supervising which overseas NGOs and the fields and activities they are allowed to operate in, the final official move before China's first law on the management of overseas NGOs takes effect in 2017.
The supervisory authorities of overseas NGOs will be decided by the field, geographic area and specific needs of their activity, according to the catalogue released on the website of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS). Foreign NGOs need to gain consent from their supervisory authorities before they begin to register under the public security department.
"Before the list was announced, some overseas NGOs found it hard to figure out which supervisory authorities they should turn to and some authorities were hesitant to take on those NGOs to avoid risks and responsibility, but the catalogue had cleared up the concerns and confusions," Liu Youping, deputy head of the China Charity and Donation Information Center, told the Global Times.
The catalogue was released days after the MPS issued a guideline on the registration of foreign NGOs in the Chinese mainland. The three basic administrative supports, which are registration, fields of work and supervisory authorities, are in place before the Foreign NGO Management Law takes effect, experts said.
According to the catalogue, the fields of activity are classified as economics, education, science and technology, culture, health, sport, environmental protection, poverty and disaster relief and other areas together with some sub-fields.
For instance, legal services have been divided into four sectors: management of lawyers and improvement of their capability, legal assistance, mediation, and law education and publicity, with the supervisory authorities being the Ministry of Justice and provincial-level judicial departments.
The fields listed in the catalogue are wide and comprehensive, and the list shows that China is managing overseas NGOs in a "professional and refined manner," Liu said.
However, Jia Xijin, associate professor at Tsinghua University's NGO Research Center, pointed out that the catalogue was "too detailed," and only a small number of overseas NGOs could find their activities perfectly match the fields listed in the catalogue.
For instance, many of the activities cover more than one field, and might change year to year, so it could be hard to identify which supervisory authority they should turn to, Jia said.
Though the catalogue says foreign NGOs whose activities cover different areas could find their supervisory authority according to their "major activity," it is sometimes hard to select what that is, as many simultaneously cover activities in different fields, she added.
Meanwhile, some fields are not listed in the catalogue, such as human rights, rights protection and religion, several representatives from foreign NGOs in China reached by the Global Times said.
According to the catalogue, the supervisory authorities include government bodies such as Ministry of Commerce, Ministry of Justice, Cyberspace Administration of China and also organizations such as the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and the All-China Women's Federation.
The activities of foreign NGOs are supervised and managed by their supervisory authorities together with the public security department. If the supervising authorities misuse, fail to fulfill or neglect their duties or play favorites during their work, they will be held legally accountable, according to article 51 of the Foreign NGO Management Law that was approved in April.
Though the catalogue makes clear who is qualified to be a supervisory authority, it is unclear which department of those authorities should be in charge of accepting NGOs and they may still refuse to take the responsibility, experts said.