Development Aid, NGOs and Civil Society: Exploring the Contradictions

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In 2004 I wrote a long article in the English edition of China Development Brief pointing to the likely future decline of international development aid to China, and to the growing role of China itself as a provider of overseas aid. Aid to China has indeed declined, and Chinese overseas aid has indeed grown, so today I can enjoy the satisfaction of saying “I told you so”—although, given all the signs at the time, it was a very easy prediction to make!

Now I have been invited to comment on what these changes mean for Chinese NGOs and for international NGOs working in China. One indisputable fact is that, over recent decades, international aid has tended to create “local NGO” bubbles in many places—and when the aid disappears, so do the NGOs. This is bad news for NGOs that have relied too much and for too long on foreign funding. In China, as elsewhere, many of those organisations will simply fold. Representatives of such groups need read no further for I have no advice to give you.

Yet the good news is that Chinese NGOs with deeper roots and identities in their own communities may find an opportunity here to increase their own legitimacy and relevance while remaining globally aware and globally connected. In making this case, though, I will have to ask for the reader’s patience because it will first be necessary to sketch a much larger context.

Technology transfer

Firstly, it is important to emphasise that NGOs have played only a relatively recent and minor role in aid flows to China and other countries. The main exchange of money and technology has long been between governments (or between multilateral agencies like the World Bank and recipient governments), and it has mainly gone to promote economic development—with only a relatively small proportion of foreign aid devoted to social programmes (health, education etc) and, more recently, to something more nebulous and controversial, which donors call “governance.”

Deborah Brautigam, an American scholar, has argued convincingly in a recent book that a defining moment in China’s reform and opening was a USD 10 billion deal struck with Japan in 1978. Japanese credits to that value enabled China to buy in Japanese technology for upgrading production in coal mines and oilfields that China had previously struggled to exploit with heroic, proletarian labour but little else. The credits were repaid with oil and coal exports to Japan, whose vibrant and creative economy—its creativity is worth stressing, if only because so many Westerners are still convinced that Asians are somehow incapable of innovation—needed raw materials for energy and manufacturing.

This deal kick-started China’s technological modernisation, which has been one of the most fundamental features of reform and opening.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, China received many billions of dollars worth of credits from Japan and European countries for projects such as building and upgrading power stations, urban water supply and sewage treatment plants, and modern transport systems. The donor countries benefitted because most of the money actually went to their own exporters and engineering contractors, so aid was also a matter of donor governments creating overseas opportunities for their own businesses. (Indeed, competition between donors for lucrative aid contracts was often quite intense.) China benefitted not just from improved infrastructure but also from technology transfer.

The drive to update technology was equally evident in the government of China’s approach to private foreign investment. The joint-venture deals of the 1980s and 1990s, when foreign companies partnered with Chinese state companies in the manufacture and marketing of everything from cosmetics to cars, were a huge learning opportunity for Chinese companies.

In engaging with international donors, the government of China also wanted to increase its representation and participation in global institutions (such as the World Bank)—partly to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and to promote the “one China” policy, but more generally to re-integrate into a wider world from which China had been relatively isolated for forty years.

But technological modernisation was at first almost certainly the most important motive, consistent with Deng Xiaoping’s “Four Modernisations” policy. In significant ways this recalled the ti-yong debate—about how far China should emulate foreign countries in order to modernise—that had unfolded in the closing days of the Qing empire.  Just as in that earlier period, there was near-universal agreement in China on the need to import advanced technologies—but much less agreement on whether, and to what extent, China should adopt or adapt foreign institutions, and at what point China should simply say no.

Neo-liberalism and the Washington Consensus

The story of international aid to China also overlaps and interacts with the story of “neo-liberalism” in the West. This is a no-holds-barred form of capitalism to which many Western governments—most notably, the United States and Great Britain—were turning in the 1980s. This broad shift was in part driven, or at least further entrenched, by Western triumphalism at the end of the Cold War. Many Americans and West Europeans took the decline and eventual collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and its East European satellite states as the ultimate proof that capitalism worked and communism didn’t. So why not revert to a more aggressive form of capitalism, freed of the regulations and constraints that Western governments, especially in Europe, had placed upon it throughout most of the twentieth century?

Neo-liberalism called for smaller and less interventionist government that left the economy to “market forces.” It called for privatisation of state owned enterprises and for public services to be contracted out to commercial companies.  It insisted on “fiscal responsibility” (that is, governments not spending more than they earn—which in practice often meant cutting public expenditure on the provision of many public goods).  And it called for a more open, global economy, in which private capital could flow where it chose and in which trade barriers—such as taxes or bans on imports—were dismantled.

These ideas were adopted in the United Sates by Ronald Reagan (president, 1981-1999) and in the UK by Margaret Thatcher (prime minister, 1979-1990), and they have been the dominant economic ideas of those countries during China’s reform and opening period.  The central tenets of neo-liberalism, especially in their application to developing countries, also became known as “the Washington consensus” because they were agreed upon, as the “correct” way to run an economy—any economy—by the three major, Washington DC-based institutions with global impact: the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the US Treasury.

In Britain and America, the results of neo-liberalism have included a steady rise in social and economic inequality and, more recently, a financial crisis caused by banks and investment funds that were allowed, with minimal government regulation, to create new and highly speculative forms of lending, borrowing and investment in globalised financial markets.

The crisis was particularly devastating for smaller European countries, such as Ireland and Iceland, which had enthusiastically embraced financial de-regulation. Its knock-on effects have crippled the economies of Greece, Portugal and Spain and seriously damaged those of Britain and America, where millions of ordinary people have lost their homes, savings and jobs.  These effects will be long-lasting because, despite their earlier lectures on “fiscal responsibility” and limiting government intervention in the economy, the US, UK and many European governments have been obliged to borrow vast sums in order to bail out their banks and “stimulate” their economies with government spending.  The United States is now the most indebted country in the history of the world. Meanwhile, the crisis also slowed the economies of countries like China which export to the West goods that fewer Westerners can now afford to buy.  It is possible, and earnestly to be hoped—although still far from certain—that these catastrophic consequences will finally wean the West off its neo-liberal ideology.

Long before the crisis, however, Western donors imposed Washington consensus policies on many developing countries, especially in Africa where governments were too dependent on aid to resist donor demands.  Donor-backed “structural adjustment” programmes resulted in widespread privatisation, reduction of government expenditure on public services, and opening of domestic markets to foreign goods and services. These policies were accompanied by Western pressure—although exerted rather selectively—for a shift to multi-party democracy, or, at least, “good governance.”

Western neo-liberals argued that, despite the short-term pain of “structural adjustment,” it would yield long term gains because developing economies had been put on the right track for economic “take off.”  Yet, from the perspective of actual economic history as opposed to economic theory, the Washington consensus prescriptions for developing countries were distinctly odd.  For, as critics of neo-liberalism have noted, the world’s most “developed” countries did not themselves “take off” this way, and nor did the most economically successful developing countries in the post World War II period.

One exceptionally clear critic is Chang Ha-Joon (張夏准), a Korean economist who now teaches at Cambridge University.  His 2007 book, Bad Samaritans, describes in detail how Britain, long before its 19th century industrial revolution, manoeuvred to develop and protect infant industries in wool and textiles, by heavily taxing imports and banning the export of its own technologies. Only in the second half of the 19th century, when it had developed its own industrial base to the extent that it had huge “comparative advantage” in manufacturing, did Britain become a firm advocate of free trade; for it then needed an increased supply of raw materials from other countries (including its own colonies) to process into finished goods, and it needed expanding overseas markets in which to sell those goods. Much of Western Europe followed this pattern of developing a domestic industrial base through long and careful periods of protectionism, and so did the United States: indeed, this was essential for America to progress beyond its status as a plantation economy supplying raw materials to Britain.

Similarly, Chang argues, over the last sixty years, the economic success of Japan, Taiwan and Korea has certainly not been based on open economies where government does little or nothing to intervene in global market forces. Rather, East Asian “economic miracles” resulted from government investment, support and initial protection for industries that could not have matured if they had been subjected, from the first, to global competition.

Did international donors propel China towards neo-liberalism? By no means. From the early 1980s, donors were keen to “engage” with China because they wanted to encourage market-oriented reforms, but they never enjoyed anything like the level of policy influence that they had in Africa and Latin America. Rather, as donor representatives I knew during my years in China were invariably at pains to point out, the government of China was always “in the driving seat.” The government listened to what international aid agencies had to say and ran pilot programmes to test some of their ideas, but came to its own conclusions, drawing more on East Asian experience than on Western prescriptions.

China has embraced market reforms in many areas, but national and local governments have by no means relinquished their leading role in the economy and they retain a controlling stake in “pillar industries” that are considered “strategic.” China has opened its economy cautiously, gradually and, as noted above, in ways designed to maximise technology transfer and modernisation.  All of this has been in marked contrast with post-Soviet Russia, which embarked on a rapid privatisation programme in line with Washington consensus prescriptions, resulting in a decade of economic decline and extraordinary hardship for the great majority of the Russian population before GDP recovered to 1991 levels.

NGO Dimensions

So where do NGOs come in?  It’s a complicated story, discussed in more detail in my 2005 essay, NGOs: the Diverse Origins, Changing Nature and Growing Internationalisation of the Species. The term “NGO” is quite new, but in the West there is a long tradition of citizens organizing independently of the state for charitable or public benefit purposes both at home and in overseas colonies or former colonies. From the late 18th century, groups of citizens in the UK opposed and campaigned against, successively, slavery, the opium trade and even colonialism itself.  Red Cross Societies, initially dedicated to helping people wounded in war, were established in many countries and they were linked in an international federation long before the founding of the League of Nations, let alone the United Nations.  This federation managed to get European governments to sign a seminal piece of modern, international law—an early version of the Geneva Convention, designed to lay down rules for war.

In the post-World War II era of decolonisation, some Western private charitable organisations that worked overseas began to wrestle with the issue of how short-term charitable inputs—such as emergency relief after natural disasters—could deliver more lasting benefits. How to address “not just poverty but the root causes of poverty?”  Such organisations began to undertake longer-term development projects which also took up causes—such as gender equity, environmental sustainability and equal opportunities for people with disabilities—which were gaining real ground in the West.  Over time, these organisations, which by the 1970s were beginning to be called “NGOs,” became larger and more numerous:  in the early 1960s, there were just a few hundred international NGOs working in more than one country; by the end of the 20th century there were close to 45,000. This happened in no small part because Western societies were becoming more affluent, with more people able to afford occasional or regular charitable donations, child sponsorship, etc; while NGOs have themselves became more capable—and competitive—in public fundraising.

Many of these NGOs were critical of their own governments’ aid programmes. Common criticisms were, firstly, that aid was often given for geopolitical reasons. (During the Cold War, it went to countries that were seen as a bulwark against communism; more recently, it has flowed to countries that are seen as a bulwark against “Islamic fundamentalism.”) Secondly, that a great deal of aid was commercially self-interested in that it was “tied” to procurement from the donor country. Thirdly, that the benefits of “top-down” development aid seldom reached the poor, but tended rather to enrich and to entrench political and economic elites in the recipient countries.  Fourthly, that aid did not get at “the root causes” of poverty in developing countries, for many of the causes lay in the structure of the global economic system.

The response of (some) international NGOs was on the one hand to design “bottom-up” overseas projects that emphasised the “participation” of beneficiary communities in their own development and tried to integrate gender and environmental concerns; while, on the other hand, developing “advocacy” campaigns to influence aid agencies, governments and the public in their home countries and abroad.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s NGOs campaigned vigorously for developing countries to be relieved from the crippling debts that many had built up, partly as a result of irresponsible lending by private banks, Western governments and international financial institutions. Some NGOs argued passionately for “fundamental change” in international trade regimes, which they rightly saw as heavily skewed in favour of developed countries.  And, increasingly, they stressed not just “participation” but “local ownership” of development processes.  This meant a new emphasis on cooperating with and working through “local partners,” both governmental and non-governmental, and both at national project level and in global advocacy efforts.  In practice this often involved, among other things, looking for “local” NGOs or—if local NGOs could not be found—helping to establish them.

In many ways, international NGOs (together with a host of thoughtful social critics, public intellectuals and scholars both in the West and globally) have enjoyed considerable success in getting their concerns taken up by bilateral and multilateral development aid agencies.  The major agencies have all, at least nominally, “mainstreamed” concepts of “participation,” gender equity, sustainable development, social inclusion, protection of minorities and vulnerable groups, etc.  In the mid 1990s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund started a Heavily Indebted Poor Countries debt-relief scheme.  And, across the international aid industry as a whole, there has been some shift towards thinking about development in wider terms than just economic growth.  Signs of this included the United Nations Development Programme formulating, in 1990, a “Human Development Index” to measure development  (rather than relying only on gross domestic product as a measure of progress), and some bilateral donors moving towards more “direct” poverty reduction. (Notably, from the late 1990s Great Britain made poverty reduction the “core purpose” of its aid efforts and in 2002 passed an International Development Act that effectively outlawed “tied” aid.)

Yet, somewhat paradoxically, this change in international development discourse coincided with the advance of neo-liberal doctrines in the West.  Bilateral and multilateral development agencies began to speak the language of “locally owned” development at the very same time that the most powerful institutions—the World Bank and IMF—were pursuing a “one size fits all,” Washington consensus approach that many Western NGOs actively deplored.

Meanwhile, however, as more Western NGOs emerged onto the global stage while simultaneously impacting on their own publics with fundraising and advocacy campaigns, the relationship between them and “official” donors became more complex.  One marked trend was that grants from bilateral and multilateral donors to NGOs increased from a few tens of millions of dollars in 1980 (at that point, 0.18 percent of “official” aid flows) to more than 4 billion dollars in 2004 (6 percent of “official” aid flows) ((Catherine Agg, 《政府对NGO提供支持的趋势:NGO“黄金年代”已成过去?》,公民社会和社会运动项目文献,第23卷,2006年6月,联合国社会发展研究所,日内瓦。Is the “Golden Age” of the NGO Behind Us?” Civil Society and Social Movements Programme Paper Number 23, June 2006, UN Research Institute for Social Development, Geneva.)).

This happened partly because of the NGOs’ own success in marketing themselves, partly because they were seen as having moral legitimacy (in that they enjoyed the support of well-meaning citizens in their countries of origin), partly because, in the West’s increasingly prevalent neo-liberal mood, NGOs were considered a better channel than government for rolling out services to the poor and for reaching the “grassroots,” and partly because they were seen as flag bearers for the values of their compatriots.  (Bilateral donor grants went overwhelmingly to NGOs established in their own countries, and European Union grants for NGOs were restricted exclusively to European NGOs.)

At the same time, as donors began to supplement their staple mix of loans and export credits with social development and environmental protection projects, they came increasingly to need reliable organisations to roll out programmes in these areas and in the new field of “governance.” This stimulated donor demand not only for capable NGOs but for university research institutes, private training institutes, and private consulting companies.  In the case, for example, of the UK, engineering companies that had once earned a living from building donor-funded roads and sewage treatment plants overseas began, in the late 1990s, to develop a specialisation in “direct” poverty reduction.  Accountancy firms and even public relations companies have also been quick to enter this market, and now compete for contracts to design, manage and evaluate aid projects.

The resulting international aid industry is complex and diverse, with multiple and contending currents.  This was not always evident to Chinese people who came into contact with only certain parts of it. (Similarly, foreigners were very often blind to the multiple and contending currents running through Chinese government and society.)  But whilst it was not true that all Westerners thought about China in the same way, or had a joint agenda for achieving “development” in China, there was an apparent Western consensus that China needed better “governance” and that “civil society” was a means of achieving this.

“Governance” and “Civil Society”

With the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union having—as far as most Westerners were concerned—vindicated Western economic and political systems, donor agencies began from the 1990s to place new emphasis not only on market reforms but also on “good governance.”  In Africa, this translated quite directly into strong, external pressure for multi-party elections in several countries that remained largely dependent on international donor support.

Western attitudes to China were far more cautious.  China had never relied on Western aid and even in the 1990s total aid flows to China were trifling compared to the country’s large population and economy.  There was no prospect of using aid as a lever of political change in China.  Rather, aid was at first simply deployed to build better relationships—including commercial relationships—with a country of considerable importance, while also encouraging and supporting pro-market economic reforms.

Yet many Westerners, both inside and outside the aid industry, believed that market reforms would over time lead more or less inevitably to political reform.  Market economies simply couldn’t work, the thinking went, without a strong and independent legal framework that respected and enforced property rights. (For this reason, considerable Western aid went to “technical assistance” in areas that would both help China develop such a legal framework and protect Western investments.) Structural change in Chinese government revenues—from collection and re-distribution of collective and state-owned enterprise surpluses (and deficits) to more direct forms of taxation—would create societal demand for more direct political representation. New business, managerial and professional classes would likely spearhead demands for greater political rights—in a kind of accelerated version of the changes that took place in Europe from the 17th to 20th centuries, when new commercial classes, and eventually workers and peasants, struggled to secure political rights from the “ancien regime” of absolute monarchy.  (Notable in this kind of analysis is the tendency to assume that Chinese political development would, in some sense, follow the patterns of the West’s very different history.)

At the same time, as China and the West become more economically intertwined through trade and investment flows, China’s stability became increasingly important to the West.  Thus, from the mid 1990s, various Western aid programmes supported efforts to manage change without turbulence—by, for example, easing the strain of economic restructuring through poverty reduction projects, re-training and job creation programmes, social security and health sector reform etc.  Some donors also began tentatively to address, or at least to talk about, “governance”—meaning, simply, the way that a country is governed.  They believed that, in order to continue developing peacefully, China needed to begin implementing political reforms that increased the transparency and accountability of government and its responsiveness to the demands of its citizens.

Such thinking converged with many of the things that (some) international NGOs had long been saying about development processes in other parts of the world.  At minimum, there should be more citizen “participation” in decision making; the “voice” of different constituencies — women, children, the elderly, migrant workers, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, etc—should be amplified and made more audible to policy makers. For international donors and NGOs alike this translated into the desire to discern, encourage and support “civil society” in China.  There is in the West no single, agreed definition as to exactly what constitutes “civil society” but, for practical purposes, from an international donor and international NGO perspective, support for local civil society has generally meant support for local NGOs and for a “policy environment” in which private citizens are able to establish and operate NGOs.

International efforts to promote civil society in China were rather modest—in terms of both money and diplomatic pressure—compared to similar efforts in many parts of the world.  This was partly due to the fact that donors themselves found it hard to discover any “civil society” to support in China: in the 1990s, certainly, most went along with the orthodox Western view that “There are no real NGOs in China.”  (This perception would in time change, owing in part to the work of China Development Brief.)  Another important factor was that bilateral and multilateral donors had to get agreement from Chinese government counterpart agencies for their programmes, and most of these were not remotely interested in seeing resources go to NGOs, especially when—as, for example, in the case of World Bank loans—the government of China was borrowing the money. Why borrow money to give away to NGOs?  To the great majority of government officials this made no sense at all.

Nevertheless, with patience and persistence, multilateral donors such as UNFPA, the European Union, the Asian Development Bank and the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Malaria and Tuberculosis, and some bilateral donors such as the UK, Canada and Australia did manage, usually under the umbrella of larger projects, to establish grant facilities to which local NGOs could apply. Private international philanthropic organisations—grant making foundations and some NGOs that had begun to work through “local partners” rather than implementing projects of their own, and which generally had rather more liberty than “official” donors to set their own priorities in China—also became important sources of funding for local NGOs. Indeed, international NGOs and, especially, international foundations, were more consistent and more flexible donors to Chinese NGOs—sometimes willing, for example, to provide quite long-term support that covered core operating costs rather than always demanding measurable “project” outputs within pre-defined “logical frameworks.” As such, private international donors were more important than the “official” donors as midwives attending the birth of what foreigners—myself included—often described as China’s “nascent” civil society.  The availability of such support, combined with the Chinese government’ s cautious encouragement of “social forces” to fill service provision gaps, led to quite rapid growth in China’s NGO sector.

But the path ahead would be fraught with difficulties, some of them directly related to the role of Western well-wishers as self-appointed midwives in delivering “local” civil society.

There is no doubt that both “official” donors and the great majority of private international donors saw their modest support for local NGOs, and for the development of an NGO sector as a whole, as part of a feel-the-stones-to-cross-the-stream process of incremental change. Intermediary organisations could provide new, two-way channels of communication between government and society. NGOs could harness and put to constructive use the creative, socially entrepreneurial energies and the compassion of Chinese citizens. In some sectors, they could engage with vital constituencies—such as “high risk groups” in the case of AIDS—which government found hard to reach. In other sectors, such as environment protection, NGOs could play an invaluable role both in public education and in monitoring the impacts of government policy and businesses activity. All of this might contribute to cohesion in a society undergoing extraordinarily rapid change. It might also encourage “governance” with a lighter touch, in which government did not merely rule society but society had a reciprocal role in holding government to account. These, roughly, were the median donor thoughts with respect to NGOs in China around the turn of the 21st century. They were, in the main, generous and well-meaning thoughts, aiming to promote “constructive engagement,” not conflict.  There were points here with which the government and Communist Party of China might not agree, but little that looked outright alarming, provided these emergent social forces were carefully managed.

Geopolitics and the “Regime Change” Narrative

Yet there is another Western narrative of civil society which the government of China has more reason to find threatening and which has been a significant obstacle to the development of China’s NGO sector and “governance” reform more generally. This is the story of civil society as an essentially revolutionary force, rising up to overthrow dysfunctional governments. The social movements that brought an end to Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia and Poland were long considered the examples par excellence, and stirred the imagination of a generation of Western political scientists. For many years, various Western commentators and pundits wondered aloud whether similar, “regime-changing” movements might emerge in China. This way of thinking about civil society has now been re-invigorated by what Western media have dubbed the “Arab Spring” in North Africa and the Middle East.

There are many respects in which this kind of story fails to connect with Chinese realities. Not least is the fact that the government of China is far from dysfunctional. Over the last 30 years it has been extraordinarily successful in raising the living standards of most of its citizens—far more successful than the government of the United States where, under the sway of neo-liberal policies, real incomes of most families have stagnated or declined since the late 1970s. Without question, there have also been huge strains and “challenges,” a great deal of inequality and many discontents in China’s recent development trajectory. But that is equally true of other Asian, African and Latin American countries, just as it was true of Europe and North America during their industrialisation, and just as it remains true of many “developed” countries today.

It is also worth remarking that widespread civil unrest in China, however improbable, would likely alarm both Western governments and global stock markets. Markets detest uncertainty above all else, and political upheaval in China could pitch the West’s already fragile economies into catastrophic recession. Economic interdependence is such that the West has every reason—and, since its own financial crisis, ever more reason—to hope and pray for China’s stability. Thus, although always ready to upbraid the government of China for human rights abuses, Western governments have in general been careful not to endorse oppositional movements within the country.

However, the government of the United States has at times explicitly endorsed the notion of civil society and NGOs as agents of “regime change” elsewhere. In the mid 2000s, shortly after the United States and its allies had achieved “regime change” in Iraq by force of arms, the U.S. State Department publicly proclaimed its plans to bolster support for NGOs in Iran in an explicit effort to prompt change in what it regarded as another “rogue regime.”

The prominence of a “regime change” narrative in Western talk of civil society, combined with evidence of the United States seeing support for NGOs as a vehicle for achieving geopolitical objectives elsewhere in Asia, was bound to make the development of an NGO sector in China a “sensitive” matter. Whilst some in China’s political establishment were certainly ready to see NGOs as having a useful contribution to make, others would question whether foreigners who spoke of a “nascent” or “emerging” civil society in China might not be thinking of the day when it would grow into an explicitly oppositional force. Such concerns would be reinforced by the many international media reports that highlighted the most controversial forms of civic activism in China—for such is the logic of the media industry: no one wants to tell an “ordinary” story—and by the many international plaudits and prizes awarded to outspoken activists and outright dissidents.

This kind of international attention, which in my view has often exaggerated the impact within China of the individuals selected for media profiles and international prizes, has tended to promote an atmosphere of confrontation. I by no means want to suggest that all social tensions in China are the result of “foreign meddling,” much less that foreigners should refrain from examining and reporting on China’s domestic affairs. Yet over the years I spent in China (1995-2007), I increasingly came to feel that state-society relations were not helped by the chorus of international academic, media and pressure-group commentators cheering on China’s “society” in what they typically presented as an adversarial conflict between citizens and the state. Added to the real strains already generated by the country’s fast-forward but uneven economic and social transformation, this would naturally encourage the authorities to watch NGOs carefully.

Some parts of the political establishment—notably, the security apparatus—would even fear that NGOs were introduced and supported by foreigners in an effort to stir up dissent and cause chaos that would derail China’s development.  The resulting, cautious and controlling “policy environment” would frustrate many entirely patriotic Chinese citizens who wanted to play a more active role in civic affairs. It would prompt some headstrong activists to adopt more confrontational positions and to see international media as an “advocacy platform” for putting pressure on their own government.   In short: a hardening of positions on all sides, a vicious circle in the making.

And one way of breaking the circle would in fact be to reduce Chinese NGOs’ reliance on international funding.

In Brief

China Development Brief’s founder, Nick Young, writes about the impact of international aid historically, pointing to its contradictory effects particularly on the NGO community both in China and abroad. 
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