Chinese Think Tanks Challenge Current Civil Society Regulations, Propose Reforms

December 6, 2004

In a critique published in the 21st Century Business Herald, researchers at three national research institutes blasted current Chinese regulations on civil society organizations. They took particular aim at the requirement that Chinese NGOs obtain a government-approved sponsor to register. All three institutes have submitted proposals to the State Council to amend existing regulations.

The requirement to have an official sponsor before relevant authorities will accept a registration application imposes significant practical difficulties on Chinese civil society organizations. Only certain party and government organizations may serve as sponsors, and even these entities often refuse to shoulder the bureaucratic responsibilities and potential political risk resulting from sponsoring an NGO. As a result, Chinese NGOs frequently choose either to operate without registration (with corresponding risk) or to register as business corporations or other for-profit entities. According to one researcher, only 20% of all Chinese civil society organizations follow designated NGO registration procedures. Moreover, researchers note that the requirement "negatively impacts citizens' constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly" by imposing a significant regulatory obstacle to establishing voluntary organizations.

One Chinese researcher predicts that the State Council will revise the relevant regulations by the spring of 2005. Proposals by both the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a research institute affiliated with Qinghua University would eliminate the requirement. A proposal from a Beijing University research center would retain it.