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June 21, 2017

Case Study: Temporary Activity Filing Stalled

To complement our post on a successful temporary activity filing, one foreign NGO has agreed to let us present its experience of filing for a temporary activity, in which the filing stalled out in the middle of the process. The problem did not appear to be the nature of the activity or inadequate documentation on the part of the foreign NGO, but rather a result of the “dual management” system for domestic Chinese NGOs.

Similar to foreign NGOs’ “dual management” system (in which foreign NGOs are supervised in some capacity by both a public security office and by their Professional Supervisory Unit), domestic Chinese NGOs have their own “dual management” system. Despite hopes that the Charity Law, which went into effect in 2016 and governs the operation of domestic non-profit organizations, might do away with this system, many domestic Chinese NGOs still must seek the sponsorship of their own Professional Supervisory Units (PSUs) in addition to registering with the Ministry of Civil Affairs.

As Shawn Shieh explained on his blog NGOs in China, the Foreign NGO Law allows for Chinese Partner Units to be one of four types of entities: a “state organ” (a government agency), a “people’s organization” (for example, the Women’s Federation or the Communist Youth League), a public institution (such as a university), or a “social organization” (generally referred to in English as an NGO). Of these four categories, the last one requires the sponsorship of a PSU. In our previous case study of a successful temporary activity filing, the foreign NGO in question partnered with a university, a category of organization that is not required to have a PSU.

But in the case under discussion here, the foreign NGO’s Chinese Partner Unit was an officially-registered domestic non-profit, and it had its own PSU. The PSU is also listed on the Ministry of Public Security’s 2017 list of entities approved to sponsor foreign NGOs for representative offices.

The foreign NGO submitted its temporary activity documentation to its Chinese Partner Unit, which passed the package to its own PSU for review. After several weeks of deliberation, the PSU opted not to sign off on a cover memo describing the proposed temporary activity. The PSU indicated that it did not have adequate “internal guidance” to sign off on the activity, but that it might be able to do so at some undetermined point in the future. The temporary activity filing package therefore never reached a public security office.

The foreign NGO notes that at this time it has no way to verify whether or not this particular PSU truly does not have internal guidance about foreign NGOs’ temporary activities, or whether it simply did not wish to take on the risk of being associated with one. (As a recent South China Morning Post article detailed, supervisory units must weigh the potential benefits of working with foreign NGOs against the potential risks involved, which could include being blamed if the foreign NGO ends up carrying out politically sensitive activities.)  The MPS’s list of successfully-filed temporary activities includes the names of foreign NGOs’ Chinese Partner Units, but does not include information about the Partner Units’ PSUs, making it a research-intensive endeavor to determine whether or not a particular PSU has previously approved other Chinese Partners’ requests for temporary activities. (The Chinese government does maintain a list of officially-registered Chinese NGOs, including the NGOs’ PSUs, though The China NGO Project does not know how complete the list is.)

As the reason for the stall appeared to be internal bureaucratic reticence and not the temporary activity itself, the foreign NGO and its Chinese Partner decided that the NGO should find a different Partner with which to carry out the activity. The foreign NGO stresses that “good guanxi [relationships] may not be a panacea” for the complexities of the temporary activity filing process.

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