Chinese Civil Society in 2018: What’s Ahead?

A ChinaFile Presents Transcript

Wang Yongmei, Anthony Saich, and Jessica Batke at the event “Chinese Civil Society in 2018: What’s Ahead?” which took place at Asia Society in New York on January 29, 2018 and was jointly hosted by ChinaFile and the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations.

Jessica Batke: Thanks everyone who came out tonight, and thanks especially to my two distinguished panelists here. The impetus for this event is it’s about a year since the new Foreign NGO Law was implemented in China. There was also another law implemented in 2016, the Charity Law, that governs how domestic NGOs function in China. But there’s a lot more going on beyond just the regulatory environment. There’s an evolving dynamic in the civil society space in China, and the appetite for charitable giving and philanthropy in China is growing by leaps and bounds. So I think what we’re seeing right now is a rapidly evolving sector—a charity sector, a philanthropic sector, and new government policies that are evolving to try to regulate that space in a reasonable manner as it develops. I was going to ask my first question to you, Tony: You were there in China in the mid-90s, in the early days of the Ford Foundation. At that time, when Ford was relatively new in the space, what were your hopes and expectations for international groups working in China, and for domestic groups working in China at that time? How have the last two or three decades confirmed your expectations or bucked your expectations?

Anthony Saich: Well, I think when I was lucky to be the representative of the Ford Foundation, there weren’t many other organizations working in China. The whole idea of NGOs, of civil society, social space, social organizations, was relatively new. It was also a time when the Chinese government itself didn’t have a lot of money to put into certain areas. So, I think my expectations and hopes were that we would be able to help develop a sense of the positive role that NGOs could play, that it’s not in the kind of stereotypical characterization as somehow a conflictual relationship, but it is actually a supporting relationship. It does of course enable you to reach communities that the government itself can’t always reach. For example, people living with HIV/AIDS. The government, even if it wanted to, didn’t know how to get into contact with them, and those groups of people often wouldn’t trust the government. So, non-governmental organizations were able to form that bridge to those kinds of communities. I think the second thing we hoped to do was be able to form bridges and links to an international community that was thinking about challenges of development, challenges of social justice, challenges of equity. So those were the two big areas in which I had hopes. In terms of fast-forwarding to now, the picture is dramatically different. You know, I do still think foreign NGOs have a role to play in China, but it is so different from the 1990s or even 10 years ago. The Chinese government has a lot more money to fund activities, Chinese society has a lot more activities, there’s a lot more vibrancy within Chinese society. There are many more Chinese organizations dealing with some of those issues. Of course, there are certain things which are off-limits around advocacy, mobilization of certain marginalized groups. But there has been a tremendous growth in that community that I think totally changes the landscape for international groups working in China. And perhaps one area which might be a fruitful area to look at is: As China goes outwards, how might its organizations engage in a regional and a global sphere? Particularly as Chinese enterprises move abroad, Chinese foundations move abroad. International organizations have a lot more experience than those in China, and those may be areas for learning, compatibility, and maybe collaboration.

Jessica Batke: That’s great. I want to ask one quick follow-up question: You mentioned one of the things that’s changed is that the Chinese government didn’t have a lot of money, necessarily, in the ’90s when you started, and now it does. How does that directly impact what foreign organizations might seek to do in China? What would the role then be, if the goal is not to just bring in a bunch of money? What would the new role be?

Anthony Saich: I think it does mean that the Chinese government has been able to reassert the agenda, because it can fund many of these activities itself. I think where there is a positive role to play is perhaps related to the comment I made earlier about a kind of bridge to hard-to-reach groups within society. And I do think as the philanthropic sector now expands in China, I do think . . . not necessarily from the U.S., I mean there are different models of philanthropy around the world, as you know European philanthropy operates quite differently because of tax laws and other things . . . but I do think there may be best practices that can be introduced to work with Chinese colleagues and Chinese partners about how you organize philanthropy, how you think about mission, how you think about grant-making, how you think about transparency, and how you think about accountability. I think those are areas which international groups have a lot of experience in, and these rapidly growing groups in China could benefit extensively from.

Jessica Batke: I want to ask you a similar question, but more from a legal and regulatory perspective, since that’s your expertise. I mentioned both the Charity Law that was implemented in 2016, and the Foreign NGO Law that was implemented at the beginning of 2017. In what ways are those regulations continuations of trends that we’ve seen over the last two decades, and in which ways are they breaks? In which ways do they mark anything fundamentally different from regulation of civil society that we’ve seen?

Wang Yongmei: Actually, the two laws give a legal frame, the legal frame for international NGOs and domestic NGOs. How they can do fundraising, how they carry out their activities. So they give a legal frame so they can follow up. . . I think some foreign NGOs, domestic NGOs, and foreign NGOs’ Chinese partners will have more confidence if foreign NGOs get registration and domestic NGOs get registration. So their cooperation is according to the law—so it is legal. They feel that is quite comfortable and gives more space for them to continue their current programs. But on the other side, we can feel that for the Charity Law, actually one quite important section is to regulate fundraising: how charity organizations can do fundraising, and what kind of circumstances or conditions they need to meet to do fundraising. For the Foreign NGO Law, they regulate what kind of foreign funding and what Chinese domestic NGOs can obtain from foreign funding, and what kind of activities they can use those kinds of foreign funding for. So we can feel that at the same time, the domestic NGOs have laws to follow to do fundraising. But at the same time, they have some regulations and may change their previous cooperation with foreign funding. They can do fundraising in mainland China, but at the same time, as Tony mentioned, NGOs are a sector in China that is quite new, it’s a new concept. I would say it is no more than 30 years old, so it’s still in the development process. A lot of NGOs were established and continued and supported by foreign funding, but at that time some data showed that before the Foreign NGO Law was implemented, there were almost ten thousand foreign NGOs active in China, with no legal registration or record. But a lot of domestic NGOs work and cooperate with foreign funding, and with foreign NGOs. So far, we can see that both of these two laws have some interest in encouraging domestic NGOs to get registration, and they have different types of organizations that domestic NGOs can register with. And also for the Foreign NGO Law, they only allow the registered office or temporary activities to cooperate with limited types of NGOs in China. Which means for some NGOs, they definitely cannot do fundraising in the mainland, and they also cannot get international support any more according to the Foreign NGO law. So for them, the future or the plan needs to be changed. It may be more difficult for them.

Jessica Batke: It sounds like for a lot of people there’s a clear regulatory framework that they can work within and have some confidence in, but in terms of funding, people may have to rethink how they are getting their money from before. Can you talk a little bit about, in particular, this funding issue, which I think is really interesting? Tencent that has had the 9/9 charity day on September 9, since 2015. And they’re raising many millions of renminbi. Every year, people can go online and donate directly to charities of their choice, and we’re seeing more individual giving and wealthy philanthropists in China giving money. So I’m wondering, how does the new Charity Law and this new concept of philanthropy, or evolving concept of philanthropy, play into people’s willingness, ability, and desire to give? Does the Charity Law say anything about that? What can we expect generally in terms of giving—individual giving or corporate giving—in China?

Wang Yongmei: From my point of view, I think one of the purposes of the Charity Law is to solve problems. China’s GDP is growing so fast, and China sometimes cannot be treated as a real developing country; they are at the middle-income country level. And it is not only to talk about the government, it is also about private wealth. Individuals also have more money, and they would like to do something good, they would like to contribute back to society. So, I think that is one of the Charity Law’s purposes. They would like to face those issues in society, so they regulated that only charitable organizations can do fundraising in public. The September 9 day you mentioned is on social media. They work with foundations and associations that qualify as charitable associations already, which means according to the Charity Law, they already have legal status as charitable organizations. Which means those organizations— foundations and associations, charitable organizations—can do fundraising in public. And other organizations, or even individual programs, they cooperate with charitable organizations and they do the fundraising together, but they use the funds for specific projects. So the law actually gives more, just as we mentioned, of a legal framework for the charitable section to do fundraising. A lot of grassroots NGOs or individuals still find a way to do fundraising even if they are not charitable organizations themselves.

Anthony Saich: I think there are a number of factors holding back development of the sector. One was the number of corruption cases which had occurred around charitable giving, particularly with government-organized NGOs, as they are referred to. I think that related to a second question about transparency, and related to that, accountability. It was very vague how these organizations should be structured and who they’re accountable to. And then the last important factor, I think, is that the Communist Party has always been ambivalent about private wealth. Of course, when it took power in 1949, it took private wealth out. It has always since then, despite certain political moves to try and co-opt wealthy people in China, I think there’s always been a suspicion about private wealth which is outside of the Party or the state’s reach, and how it might be used, whether it might be used for anti-government purposes or not. But of course since China entered the WTO, you’ve seen this massive boom in private wealth in China. And I think those two laws, the Charity Law and also the Foreign NGO Law, were really set to try and address those problems. I think it recognizes first and foremost that the Chinese Communist Party has accepted that there is a lot of wealth in society, and that many of those people with that wealth want to give back to society in one way or another. But importantly allied with that, they want to make sure they go to those kinds of areas that the government itself sees as a priority for giving; what is outlined in the law are certain areas of activity. Although it also has “etc.,” which is a very important “etc.” usually in China, it outlines quite clearly those sorts of areas that it wants people to give charitable donations to. Health, education, scientific research, the environment, and so forth. So, one, it’s a recognition that money is there in society; wo, that it needs to be regulated more effectively; but three, where the money is given is to those areas that the state itself prioritizes as key sectors for investment from society.

Jessica Batke: We’ve talked a little bit about growth of philanthropy and how the government’s changing views on the philanthropic sector have allowed this evolution to take place. But what about views of civil society, NGOs, charitable giving among Chinese people? I remember for years, people told me, “Well, I don’t want to give money, because I don’t trust who it’s going to.” For anybody who doesn’t remember, there was the Red Cross scandal, I think in 2009. Guo Meimei was a woman who posted many flashy pictures with many flashy cars, and it was made to seem that she was taking Red Cross money to get these fancy cars. And that really had a deleterious effect on the public’s views on NGOs and on charitable giving. And as Yongmei mentioned, NGOs are a relatively new concept in China. So we’ve talked about the government’s views changing; how have people’s views changed, and what is the relationship between what’s going on generally in China in terms of what people are interested in, what people are focused on, what sectors civil society and grassroots NGOs are focused on, and how has their focus changed over time?

Anthony Saich: Do you want to start?

Wang Yongmei: Yeah, actually I think that is a good question. As for the public in China, because of the Red Cross Guo Meimei event, they lost faith in governmental background organizations. I should say that because in China, a lot of organizations registered as a foundation, association, or private non-enterprise organization, but they really have some government background. So they have more cooperation with the government than with civil society. So actually, I think the public lost faith more in those organizations than with grassroots NGOs. Because the grassroots NGOs—for example, disabled rights, LGBT rights, migrant rights, or domestic violence and women’s issues. Those organizations really focus on individuals and vulnerable peoples’ interests. The people knew these organizations and really care about what they do for those communities. So there is trust. And I think a strong relationship and strong trust still exists. So that’s the reason why September 9 always happens with WeChat. WeChat and Weibo are quite different. WeChat is always with friends, relatives, and colleagues. People you definitely know or have at least met once. But for Weibo, it’s for the public. So on September 9, they raise a lot of funding from their friends, from their community, from their relatives. So I feel that shows the trust that exists.

Anthony Saich: Yeah, I think trust is the really important component of that. And I think it’s also that, you know, China is much more affluent now. And particularly a lot of young people begin to not only be interested in making money, making wealth, but they’ve also become much more interested in the environment in which they live. Not just the physical environment, but the social environment as well. So in that sense, I think things have dramatically changed. One thing that has always puzzled me a little bit, and we’ve been doing some work on this, is that China came out as next to last in the world giving index. I think it was only Burundi that was below China. And I don’t think that’s right, because I see a lot of giving in China, but it doesn’t get picked up. I mean, if you go to a temple, if you go to a clan organization, many religious organizations in China, there’s a lot of giving. As you say, within the local community, where there is trust. But of course in the U.S., if I were to give to the church, I’d record it as a tax-deductible item. But in China, if you give it to the temple or the local clan association, it doesn’t. So those things don’t get recorded. So one of the things we’re trying to do in the center with our philanthropy program is some kind of web scraping, to find out how much people are really giving. Everybody talks about Jack Ma and the big philanthropists, but my gut feeling is there’s a lot more giving within society. But as you both said, they don’t want to give to these big government-organized NGOs because of questions around accountability, transparency, and the corruption scandals that came up. After the Wenchuan Earthquake, the big earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, there was a huge outpouring of giving. And a lot of people don’t know what happened to the money. They say, “Where did it go?” I mean, society gave a tremendous amount of money, and they’re not quite sure what happened to it.

Jessica Batke: Do you have any sense that the Charity Law is going to allow for us to have more insight into this sort of informal giving? Or is the sort of giving you’re talking about not going to be captured by this law?

Anthony Saich: My personal view, but Yongmei might know better, my personal view is I don’t think it will be. So what we’ve tried to do is go through things like WeChat, and other online things, to see what people are saying about what they’re giving. But if anybody goes to villages in the Chinese countryside or even different urban communities, you see that the temples often became the main site of reciprocity. Not necessarily the Party office or the government office. People often go to the temple to sort out problems, to think about how to help distressed families within the village. And they often have that local knowledge that helps. And of course it then revolves around trust relationships, as you rightly said. And often the trust is stronger there. But you don’t capture that, I don’t think, through the Charity Law.

Wang Yongmei: Yeah, my opinion is the same. I don’t think the Charity Law would like to give space for that giving. Actually, they would like to, that law would like to . . . guide funding into directions which the government thinks will benefit society. So they will just use the regulation to guide funding to go in the directions they think are suitable for society. Funding that the community would like to give to their own interests, I don’t think will be in the Charity Law.

Jessica Batke: So that raises a really interesting question about the tension between what you guys have described as a really vibrant sort of trust-based, local, grassroots effort or initiative to help your community and give back to your community, and people being more willing to give at this very local, personal knowledge level. And at the same time, the government is more interested in saying, O.K., we want poverty alleviation funds, we want disaster relief funds. So how do those tensions resolve themselves? Do you end up with more groups that are formed locally, that just end up doing the sorts of work that government does? It seems like there are two slightly different things at play. Or do you think that the issues that local grassroots groups would want to organize themselves around anyway also do happen to be the exact same sorts of things that government wants to funnel money to? I know everybody wants their kids to have good schools and that’s something the government wants, too. Is there a tension there? Is there a tension between what people at the grassroots want to be supporting and what the government wants to funnel money towards?

Anthony Saich: Personally, I don’t think there’s a tension. I think it’s in part a question of scale. I think where the tension comes is if community organizing begins to cross jurisdictional boundaries. For example, if it would begin to organize dispossessed farmers or laid-off workers, and it wasn’t locally based but tried to think about it in a broader scale. And the Party has made it very clear that is unacceptable. We’ve all read in newspapers all the cases of human rights lawyers, labor activists, and so on who are arrested. They’re clearly limited to the permissions which have been pretty clearly drawn. But I think in your specific question, I don’t think there’s tension because I think a lot of that local engagement, as you say, is about getting a better school, maybe getting some kindergarten facilities, maybe getting some kind of better health facilities. So on that point I don’t necessarily see a tension.

Wang Yongmei: For me, actually, I can feel some tension among the grassroots NGOs. I usually divide grassroots NGOs into two types. One is service-based. So those NGOs are more focused on providing services to the community, on elder issues, children’s issues, even some health issues. So actually, they are more focused on providing services to the community. And another type of NGO in my mind is advocacy NGOs, which focus more on policy change, are involved in legislation, and hope by changing the law to change the situation in the community. So I think those two types of NGOs definitely have some tension about funding and government support. Especially after the Foreign NGO law implementation. We can see that the government would really like to support the service-based NGOs. Because we all know services are important; there’s a huge population and the government cannot provide all services to the community. With so many details, they need professionals. For example, social workers and counselors to provide real professional services to the community. That is really a good thing. But at the same time, the other type of NGO, the advocacy or policy-related NGOs, face a different situation. Service-based NGOs can get more funding because they can register quite easily and do fundraising, cooperate with registered foreign NGOs, and get a lot of support from the government by signing contracts for government-purchased programs. So they have more and more space to develop, and because maybe they can provide better salaries and more stable career development opportunities, they also can attract a lot of the young generation with a good heart that would like to work for society. They will choose those good organizations. But at the same time, we can see that if it happens continually, the service-based organizations will swallow or eat the space of the advocacy NGOs. Because advocacy NGOs are quite hard to register. Which means they cannot get funding from registered foreign NGOs and they can only get limited government support funds. So they are forced to change their mission to the service space or they are forced to stop their work. So actually, we call it an NGO, but nonprofits and the public interest—we mixed those legal concepts together, but actually they are not the same thing.

Jessica Batke: Right, so the tension isn’t necessarily the sectors or the issue sets you’re working on, it’s how you’re going about working on them that’s the issue. We talked about how methods are bifurcated. I wanted to ask a bit more about the domestic and international bifurcation. So we have these two laws: one which regulates domestic NGOs, one which regulates foreign NGOs, which very clearly, from the government point of view, puts these things in two different baskets. Do you think that has had or will have an effect on the types of issues, and/or methods, that domestic versus international NGOs will have in China? Do you think that because of the different sets of regulations, maybe domestic NGOs will be more focused on doing XYZ sort of work, and foreign NGOs will take on other work? Or do you think, no, it will probably basically be the same thing but it’s just a different method of registration?

Anthony Saich: I think that they’ll both be working in similar kinds of areas. But I do think that it’s going to be much more difficult for international groups to work in China with this new process of registration. For those who don’t know, an international group first has to find a sponsoring agency, and then once it has a sponsoring agency it has to register with the Ministry of Public Security instead of the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which was the case previously. And I think one of the problems is why as a sponsoring agency you would take on responsibility for an international group. Because all it can really mean is trouble for your own problems, and it’s probably better to either give no reply or do nothing. So I think the terrain will be more difficult for international NGOs. I do think as Yongmei and others have pointed out, those who are really trying to work in advocacy areas, I don’t think are going to find it a very conducive atmosphere to work in China. I think that’s going to be a similar problem, though, for domestic NGOs. Although because they are embedded in society, it may be easier for them to duck, bob, and weave and find their way around the situation. As all of you know who have worked in China, the Chinese are nothing if they’re not creative. As soon as there’s a new regulation, within a few months everybody’s worked out how you get around it and what do you do to basically nullify it. So I have great faith in their capabilities to find ways around things. What I do think we’ll see in the short term is that if we think about the service NGOs as comprising a third sector, I think that’s going to expand hugely in China with this social support. If you think about civil society as a place for critical reflection, advocacy, and engagement, I think that’s going to be severely constrained in the short term. If we look longer-term, I’m not so convinced that will be the case. Because I think if you look longer-term, there’s a base now within Chinese society that didn’t exist before, of autonomous organizations, of NGOs. And you can’t wish that away once it’s started. You can constrain it, you can push it back, and that’s where I make a distinction between what the title of this was, “what we expect in 2018,” which is maybe a little more somber, and what we might see over the longer period of time.

Wang Yongmei: I really agree with the professor’s point of view. Now, definitely, is not the best time for NGOs to develop, no matter foreign or domestic. But I don’t think it is the worst time. I’m not sure. Because of these two laws, advocacy NGOs would like to survive, firstly. So they would like to analyze their current work, to see whether or not they can just choose one area of their current program to get registration. Which means they can get more flexibility and space to do fundraising. I know some communities do not really care about fundraising from the mainland, or they do not fully rely on international NGOs, because they have a huge community, and their community is well-educated with good jobs, and those communities will continue to give money to the organization to carry on their activities. But not all such kinds of advocacy organizations have those kinds of resources. I mean, for disabled people, they are discriminated against in education so they don’t have many chances to get well-paid jobs. My point of view is that if advocacy NGOs would like to change their mission a little bit to provide service to the community, it is not a bad thing. Because the more and more service-based NGOs grow up, they train a new generation, train society, and become more and more professional no matter the transparency of information, and they become more accountable. So it is still quite good for the whole society, for civil society, to develop in the future. Even if so far the law is not so good for advocacy NGOs. But they can still use a different way to train themselves or to train the new generation.

Jessica Batke: O.k., so looks like the long-term outlook we are all feeling pretty good about. I’d like to open it up for questions now.

Audience Member: Hello, my name is Larry Bridwell, and I teach international business at Pace University. I have many students from China, and they’re very interested in environmental issues because of pollution and the like. So in terms of civil society, in terms of advocacy, what is your forecast for the future of the ability of environmental activists in China to function and advocate? And my second issue is the migrant workers. I could imagine there might be service organizations that could provide services to low-income migrant workers, but how much advocacy to improve the life circumstances of migrant workers will the Chinese government allow? Not just in 2018, but maybe five to 10 years more?

Anthony Saich: I think on the environmental issue, the government has to a large extent signaled that there’s a legitimate area of concern. And if you think about it, it’s the one thing which is a fundamental threat to the Chinese Communist Party. Because environmental pollution is part and parcel to the development strategy that it chose, whether it’s air, whether it’s water, soil pollution, or whatever. So it has been in many ways more receptive to both international groups and domestic groups that are working in that area. I would say it’s even being more tolerant towards local protests about environmental pollution. Because the trouble with China is, it’s also the advantage of China, you can say whatever you like about the place because somewhere it’s happening. But if you look at a lot of the localities, there’s a lot of examples where local protests have made factories perform better, that have put pressure on government to close down. So that does seem to be an area where the window is somewhat more open than in other areas. The challenge of the migrant communities is you have a lot of different interests working against that. National policy has moved on, but a lot of urban dwellers don’t want them integrated into benefits within the urban community. So if I’m a local mayor, I have to weigh out the interests of my community, which might not want migrant kids, or the parents might not want migrant kids coming into schools, into hospitals, and so there’s been much less agitation I would say around the questions of migrants and migrant rights. But it’s not an issue that’s going to go away. If you’re going to operate a system that claims to be socialist, and you claim that you’re talking about social equity and justice, it’s very difficult to exclude 120 million people from the benefits that others in your country are getting. So the pressure in that sense is not going to go away. I know that’s not a real answer to your question, but it’s certainly going to be there over the five- to 10-year span that you’re talking about, and government will have to act on that. It has acted, but will have to continue acting on it more I think.

Wang Yongmei: I totally agree with the professor on the first question. I think the environmental issue is a very unique issue in China. Because it is a common interest between the government and civil society. They must work together, because we share the same air, same water, same food, and the same environment. So actually, the central government and the local government have interest to do something. So that’s a reason why we have the civil procedure law that changed the procedure to allow public interest litigation. The issue was raised because of the environmental issue, pollution. That will be changed because the Chinese government has central power; they can do things quite efficiently. So I think the environmental issue is quite a unique issue in China now. But for the migrant worker issue, actually I have some very interesting opinions, although I divide the domestic NGOs into the service space and advocacy space. But I think if the service-based NGOs really do their work, in the long-term, they will figure out they cannot start programs related to the policy. If the policy won’t be changed, their service is just going round and round but cannot really solve problems happening to migrant workers and their children. So , if they really do their service job professionally, they will definitely find it is related to the policy. And they might think about changing the policy, and then they are finding themselves doing advocacy.

Anthony Saich: We have a postdoc at our center who’s working on protests in China. And one of the interesting things is that, as Yongmei said, and this relates to protests around certain environmentally polluting plants, that the Party officials in that city and the government officials in that city are adversely affected, as are the citizens. And so they seem much more willing to let protests go ahead, because they’re affected by it as well and their children are affected by it as well, which is not the case in, say, certain other areas where they might move to crack down more quickly.

Audience Member: Vishakha Desai, Columbia University and President Emerita Asia Society. I have a two-part question. One is that, Yongmei, when you talked about advocacy and policy or service, where do cultural organizations fit in? And what is the impact of the new regulation, especially on the amount of private cultural institutions that have now come up in China? And the other question is for you, Tony. You just briefly mentioned that there is some interest on the part of Chinese philanthropy to go global, or international. And yet one of the things I have found is that there seem to be tremendous restrictions on how the money goes out. So I’d love for you to tell us where that is and how it’s playing out.

Wang Yongmei: Could I ask what kind of cultural programs you mean?

Anthony Saich: Private museums. . .

Audience Member: Cultural, not-for-profit institutions. I don’t mean galleries, I don’t mean for-profit, but cultural institutions that do think of themselves as not-for-profit institutions.

Wang Yongmei: Actually, I think if it is a normal cultural program it would still be within the scope of the Foreign NGO Law. So you are allowed to carry out your program in China. But in my knowledge and experience, I know a lot of cultural programs are related to minority groups and they live in some special areas like Tibet. They have special religious culture and language, and if the cultural programs relate to those aspects, it will make it more challenging and difficult. If it’s just normal, I mean normal museums, normal individuals, yeah sure. That is still in the scope of the Foreign NGO Law. So it really depends on the content, not the name or the title. What kind of organization you would like to support or work with, and in which provinces you would like to carry out your program, and what kind of exhibition or things you would like to carry out. It really depends.

Anthony Saich: Yeah. In terms of activities outside of China, you’re right, it is quite difficult getting money out of the country. So two of the main areas of course are what the Chinese Communist Party calls United Front work, which are donations to things which promote positive messages about China or about the Party or whatever. The other growing area though is more in CSR, the corporate social responsibility field. Where China is becoming more and more engaged overseas with investments, building factories and plants, it is getting involved in local communities with CSR activities. And I think there is potential for collaborations around questions to do with how you think about local communities when you’re setting up plants and enterprises. How do you think about displacement of local workers, how do you think about rights-based issues? Which might be easier to do when it’s outside of China, than perhaps when it’s inside of China. But I do think that, increasingly, many of the rapidly emerging wealthier groups in China are engaging in global philanthropy projects. We all know about the failed attempts by Bill Gates to try and get Chinese to join in. Which was not a very good exercise if you understood Chinese culture. But there’s been various things going on with the East-West Philanthropy meetings in Hawaii, and people came there and actually are giving huge amounts of money to things like maritime protection and sustainable development. And they’re giving those monies together with non-Chinese organizations internationally. I don’t know how they get the money out, to be honest. But they were certainly making large pledges, and I don’t think it was just grandeur. I think it was actually real, and that the money was there, and they were actually engaging in those projects. You know, I think it’s an interesting area to keep an eye on. And I think it’s an interesting area that we shouldn’t ignore because I think it’s something where different groups can work together and getter a better sense of understanding. And there may be norms and practices which are being developed globally, that Chinese organizations could benefit from understanding and being able to apply.

Audience Member: Thanks. Anne Sherman, I cover human rights and civil society at the State Department. So you talked about some of the new challenges in terms of restrictions on fundraising, and finding a Chinese partner or PSU to register, and in terms of advocacy groups in China. And I wonder, is there a U.S. government role in helping, or a foreign government role generally, in helping foreign and U.S. NGOs that are facing challenges in China or in working directly with the Chinese government to shape the implementation of the law? Or is the U.S. government role unhelpful, and this is a space that should be left to civil society?

Anthony Saich: Well, when I was running Ford Foundation in China, the ambassador was quite clear it was not a very good idea to come near me. The U.S. ambassador, he didn’t necessarily see it as helpful. I think that at a more serious level, I do think there is a role to play in terms of government-to-government relations trying to enhance understanding, to talk about what is the role that NGOs play and to shift the discussion away from the kind of color revolution fear and those kinds of issues and questions. And I think there are sometimes issues because the U.S. government, like European Union governments, has certain pressures that is has to use certain language about what these organizations do. And that isn’t always helpful I think, in contexts like Russia or in China, because it can lead to misunderstanding of people in the government picking out on more negative, from their perspective, aspects of it. I’m not sure if U.S. engagement in particular instances helps. I’m sure you must have been involved with advice in different forums when the law was being drafted. And that seems to me at that level a very appropriate and a very useful rule for the U.S. government to be playing. Maybe in the way that you work with chambers of commerce to promote, what are key issues holding this back that are detrimental to China, that may be the kind of role that the U.S. government could be extremely helpful in kind of pulling together, now that we know the law has been there for a little more than a year. What are the obstacles? Are there obstacles? What are the blocks? And what might be useful ways to shift that purpose forward? That seems to me to be an entirely legitimate set of discussions for the U.S. government to be involved in. When it gets down to “well, this particular group is having trouble,” I’m not sure that would help, I don’t really know.

Wang Yongmei: I agree with the professor. If it is on the governmental or official level, and you help represent U.S.-based NGOs to raise their concerns and questions and challenges, for example the PSU problems, to the Chinese government, I think that will be useful and helpful to raise their attention. But actually, China did a wonderful job. According to the data, U.S.-based NGOs occupy the greatest quantity of registered offices. Which means the Chinese government can reply it is really supporting U.S.-based NGOs already. But for the individual organizations, if they suffered some difficulties to find a suitable PSU or want to just ask the PSU to say yes, I don’t think government-level negotiation is good.

Anthony Saich: For those who don’t know, the PSU is the sponsoring organization that a foreign NGO has to be registered with before it can go to formal registration with the Public Security Bureau. I do think one thing that perhaps could be useful from a government perspective is to ask the Chinese government why they’ve made the selection of certain sponsoring agencies, and to try and encourage them to expand the number of organizations that can sponsor international or foreign NGOs, because it’s a very restrictive group at the present time. That might be one interesting area to think about.

Audience Member: My name is Teng Biao. I am a human rights lawyer and scholar from China. In 2003, I co-founded Gongmeng, aka the Open Constitution Initiative. It is very confrontational, focusing on rule of law and human rights, and was shut down in 2009. Since Xi Jinping came to power, Xu Zhiyong, the President of Gongmeng, and many, many other Gongmeng-related activists were arrested. I think Xi Jinping is turning China into a more and more Orwellian state, where civil society has no place. You can see the roundup of human rights lawyers and activists, the crackdown on underground churches, NGOs, universities, Internet, journalists, everything. Especially the confrontational NGOs. Conservative NGOs are very important, but in my opinion, the most important part of civil society is the confrontational NGOs, and I think Xi Jinping will not tolerate any of these human rights NGOs. Even some service NGOs which are confrontational have been shut down. For example, the Li Ren Citizen Library Program and some others. So that’s my brief comment.


Anthony Saich: Yes, that’s absolutely true. I mean, that’s why I said in the immediate period, civil society as we would understand it is going to be severely curtailed. I don’t think anybody doubts that. As you mentioned, as I mentioned earlier, the human rights lawyers and those kinds of groups are going to come under increasing pressure, and I think it’s going to be an increasing problem for foreign NGOs that are involved in those areas of advocacy. I think they will not be allowed to register and will find it very difficult, if not impossible, to work in China.

Wang Yongmei: Actually, we all agree that now is not an easy time or an easy period for civil society to develop, or to move on. But we always make a joke that the Internet is a gift from god to the Chinese people, which means once you open the door, it’s quite hard to close it all the way. So we have the Internet, and we have the way to access resources. And I would like to share that I think we cannot see China as a whole. China is so big and complicated, and the central and local levels might have some different conflicts of interest or different opinions about NGO areas. I would like to share an example. I represented the first case of anti-discrimination against transgender people. As you may know, the LGBT concept is not a concept in Chinese law so far. We don’t give a legal definition of those communities. But when we directly talk with judges, different judges at different levels showed a good attitude. They were friendly and respectful to those people, the client. They would like to provide help as much as they possibly can. So we feel it is quite a difficult time for advocacy NGOs. But at the same time, people’s minds are changing now. You cannot stop people’s minds. They use information, they use resources, and after they read more and more, they change their mind. So I know it’s not an answer. It’s just my observation.

Jessica Batke: And with that, we’re going to have to call it an evening. And I want to thank everybody again for coming out, and I would like to thank all our amazing panelists.