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May 9, 2017

More Foreign NGOs Register in Yunnan, Sichuan, Shanghai, and Guangdong

The Beijing-based China Development Brief's (CDB’s) English-language website came out last month with more news about the implementation of the Foreign NGO Law in Yunnan, Shanghai, Sichuan, and Guangdong, where a large number of foreign NGOs recently registered representative offices.

CDB also has created a “Simple Guide” to the Foreign NGO Law.

As of April 23, the Ministry of Public Security website had recorded a total of 69 successful registrations of representative offices by foreign NGOs. I used the MPS information, as provided by The China NGO Project, to create a table of the foreign NGOs based on the date and province in which they registered. The table shows that the largest number of foreign NGOs registered in Beijing, followed by Shanghai and Guangdong. These three provincial units were also the earliest to register foreign NGOs. Almost all the other provinces, including Yunnan and Jiangsu, did not start registering foreign NGO representative offices until April, when provincial authorities approved another large cohort of foreign NGOs offices. These numbers suggest possibly that it’s taking other provinces more time to get their staff and offices up and running, and that we will see more foreign NGO representative offices registered after April 23.

Table 1: Number of Registered Foreign NGO Representative Offices, by Month and Province

In total, 62 NGOs were listed as registering a total of 69 representative offices. Five of the 62 NGOs had succeeded in registering a representative office in more than one province. These included:

  • MSI Professional Services, a faith-based NGO doing poverty alleviation work (agriculture, community health and development, business development, education and youth, etc.) registered a representative office in Sichuan and in Yunnan;
  • Project Hope, a NGO which works on health care, registered a representative office in Beijing and in Shanghai
  • U.S. Soybean Export Council registered a representative office in Beijing and in Shanghai
  • U.S.-China Business Council registered a representative office in Beijing and in Shanghai
  • World Vision Hong Kong, a NGO which works on community and youth development, poverty alleviation, and disaster relief, registered a representative office in Guangdong, in Yunnan, in Guangxi, and in Jiangxi.

For Table 2, I distinguished between five broad categories: 1) development-type NGOs providing social services (mostly health-related, child welfare, poverty alleviation, and environmental); 2) NGOs engaged in education and cultural exchange; 3) membership associations engaged in commerce or trade; 4) organizations engaged in scientific/technical research; and 5) think tanks.

Table 2: Number of Registered Foreign NGO Representative Offices, by Sector/Field

The largest sectors were development, with 37 registered offices, and economic/trade associations, with 25. I also created a separate category for think-tanks, which as of April 23 only included the Paulson Institute, which registered in Beijing. The Paulson Institute is a U.S. think tank founded by Henry Paulson, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs and former Treasury Secretary under President George W. Bush.

Not surprisingly, most of the registered development NGOs were concentrated in Beijing and Yunnan, a province which has a long history of involvement by foreign NGOs mostly working in the environmental, health, and poverty alleviation sectors. Most of the economic and trade associations were concentrated in the industrial/commercial centers of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangdong, as one would expect.

In terms of country of origin of the foreign NGOs with registered offices (Table 3), the largest number came from the U.S., with 28. Here again, this was no surprise given the size of the nonprofit sector in the U.S. compared to other countries. What was more unexpected was the number of Hong Kong-based NGOs (20) that have registered, nearly as many as from the U.S., and far more than those from European countries. Many of these were social service, or educational/cultural NGOs, rather than economic/trade associations, contrary to what we might think given Hong Kong’s position as a commercial center. Several of these NGOs were established by ethnic Chinese and are faith-based, small, and not well known, in contrast with the much larger, well known American and European NGOs such as the Gates Foundation, Save the Children, Family Health International, Conservation International, and World Wildlife Fund. In fact, an Internet search on a number of them turned up almost no information about their missions, organization, governance, or activities. Many had also not been previously registered as representative offices of foreign foundations with the Ministry of Civil Affairs under the 2004 Foundation Management Regulations. The ability of these Hong Kong-based NGOs to register representative offices early on suggests that capacity and expertise may not count as much as an organization’s cultural/ethnic affinity, connections, and history working in the People’s Republic of China, but that may also be pure speculation on my part. Still, their presence on the list does raise the question of how these NGOs were able to get a head-start on many of their better-resourced counterparts.

Table 3: Number of Registered Foreign NGO Representative Offices, by Country/Territory

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Shawn Shieh has 15 years of experience working to strengthen civil society and social movements in China and the Asia-Pacific. In 2018, he founded Social Innovations Advisory, Ltd. (SIA), a...

A version of this post originally ran on Shawn Shieh’s blog, NGOs in China.