Asia Dialogue, the online magazine of the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute, has published a series of “video policy briefs” looking at how the implementation of China’s Overseas NGO Law has affected NGOs from various European countries.
The first policy brief, by Dr. Horst Fabian, an independent researcher, looks at the experience of German NGOs in China. It generally takes a negative view of the situation, claiming that successful registration for German NGOs under the new law does not necessarily mean that “meaningful cooperation” can continue. Dr. Fabian found that Chinese partner organizations are often reluctant to work with German NGOs, and have sometimes seized the chance to take over project ownership, while administrative costs have risen and acceptable issues to work on have been reduced. German NGOs now have to evaluate whether cooperation is still possible or advisable.
The second policy brief, by Nicola McBean, from The Rights Practice, looks at the situation from the perspective of British NGOs. It takes a less negative view overall, noting that it is too early to assess the law’s full impact. It is found that the authorities are still “feeling their way on implementation”, and the grey area in which foreign NGOs used to operate has not completely ceased to exist, with some organizations still registered as companies.
At the same time, it is also found that the law is having a definite impact, with foreign NGOs more cautious in their choice of partners and activities, and local partners more wary of cooperating. Fields of work like trade or the environment, which the authorities feel more comfortable with, are being reinforced at the expense of other fields. At the same time, the brief acknowledges that the law may have other unexpected positive consequences, as local NGOs find new ways to reach out to local allies.
The last policy brief is conducted by Dr. Patrick Schroder, from the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton, UK, and looks at the situation for Dutch and French NGOs. It also takes a mixed view, finding that some NGOs from France and the Netherlands managed to register and continue their work without too much trouble under the new law, whereas others are either still attempting to register or have simply been unable to do so.
The case of Agriterra, a Dutch NGO that works in the agricultural sector, is held up as a positive example: after registering with the Chongqing Agriculture Committee, it has been able to make its relationship with its local partners more professional, improve the implementation of its projects and reduce costs. On the other hand, it is noted that even a large and international environmental NGO headquartered in the Netherlands and with an office in China has still been unable to complete its registration.