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April 24, 2017

Approved Foreign NGO Representative Offices: A Comparison with Previous Registrations

One of the mandates of the newly-enacted Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations’ Activities in the People’s Republic of China is that all Foreign NGOs with a permanent footprint in China must register with the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) to legally establish a “representative office.” Since the law went into effect on January 1, Chinese authorities have approved the registration of 69 foreign NGO representative offices (as of April 24), representing 62 distinct organizations (some NGOs have more than one representative office).

As Shawn Shieh has noted on his blog NGOs in China, many of the foreign NGOs that have successfully applied for representative offices under the new law were previously registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. (Until this year, the Ministry of Civil Affairs was the government entity tasked with managing foreign NGOs.) Of the 62 organizations that have successfully registered for a representative office as of April 24, 34 had been previously registered with either the Ministry of Civil Affairs at the national level or with the Yunnan Provincial Civil Affairs Department, which had implemented regulations in 2010 similar to the current Foreign NGO Law. 24 of the remaining newly-registered groups are trade or industry associations, such as the U.S. Soybean Export Council or the Confederation of Indian Industry. Therefore, 58 of the foreign NGOs currently registered with the MPS were likely ushered in under the special fast-track application process that Chinese officials had described in a press conference last year. The fast-track process allows foreign NGOs who had been registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs or the State Administration of Industry and Commerce to transfer their registrations to the Ministry of Public Security.

This means that only four of the new MPS registrations represent non-trade groups that did not previously have officially-recognized non-profit status in China. Though implementation of the Foreign NGO Law is still very much in its rollout phase and could change significantly in the coming months, the current registration roster does not include many well-known NGOs that have had a presence in China but that had not previously been registered with either the Ministry of Civil Affairs or the Yunnan Provincial Civil Affairs Department. Viewed in terms of what many assumed was the Chinese government’s goal of bringing many foreign NGOs under closer formal supervision while allowing for more selective and precise exclusion of non-preferred groups, the implementation of the Foreign NGO Law has yet to bear fruit.

In contrast, foreign NGOs who had not been previously registered with the Yunnan or national Civil Affairs offices have made up the majority of organizations carrying out temporary activities under the new law. As reported by the MPS on its website, only three of the total 26 foreign NGOs who have filed for temporary activities had previously been registered with the Yunnan or national Civil Affairs offices at either the national level or in Yunnan. The remaining 23 groups who are carrying out temporary activities had no such recognition, but have still been able to successfully submit their paperwork to the MPS.

Registered Foreign NGO Representative Offices Previous Registration Status

Foreign NGOs That Have Filed for Temporary Activities, Previous Registration Status

The author of this piece is a former employee of the United States Department of State. The opinions and characterizations in this paper are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent official positions of the United States Government.

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Jessica Batke is a ChinaFile Senior Editor. She is an expert on China’s domestic political and social affairs, having served as the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research Analyst for...