Enemies of the State: Beijing Targets NGOs

Fear of foreign infiltration behind a draft law that turns civic groups into security risks

By Andrew Browne

The Wall Street Journal

SHANGHAI—It takes a special kind of courage to run a foreign nonprofit in China these days.

There have always been challenges in dispensing humanitarian services across such a vast country—everything from HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns to environmental cleanups and care for orphans. Regulations are so onerous that it is virtually impossible for many civic groups to operate legally.

Still, thousands persist, often counting on sympathetic local police and officials to turn a blind eye to infractions.

But that kind of indulgence may soon be ending. A Chinese draft law treats the entire sector of foreign nonprofits as potential enemies of the state, placing them under the management of the Ministry of Public Security.

To drive home the point, the law is being readied as part of a package of legislation that also includes a national-security law and an antiterrorism law—and it contains similar language, according to Western legal experts who have studied the texts.

Beijing’s message is clear, says the director of one children’s-education group: “We’re not welcome anymore.”

“It’s insulting,” she adds, asking not to be identified.

China isn’t alone in stepping up pressure on nonprofits. In Cambodia, nonprofits are alarmed by a proposed law that makes connections between NGO funding and money-laundering. Indian authorities have been scrutinizing the finances of the Ford Foundation and have frozen the bank accounts of Greenpeace’s Indian arm.

There is a long history of suspicion in China about Westerners and their civic works. The missionaries who flooded in during the 19th century did so under the protection of gunboats and unequal treaties that pried the country open against its will. Chinese authorities today cast nonprofits as agents of a new kind of imperialism seeking to undermine communist ideology. Lurking at the back of their minds are memories of covert CIA activities in Tibet during the Cold War aimed at destabilizing the regime.

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