Government Advances Civil Society-Related Reforms in Shenzhen

February 4, 2010

The Ministry of Civil Affairs and the southern city of Shenzhen signed an agreement in July 2009 that provides for certain reforms to the local administration of civil affairs. Among other reforms, the agreement calls for the development of community-based social organizations and the establishment of a regulatory system for charities.

The Ministry of Civil Affairs (MOCA) and the southern city of Shenzhen signed the Cooperation Agreement on Pushing Forward With Integrated Reforms to Civil Affairs Undertakings (Agreement) in July 2009, which promises to advance reforms to civil affairs. The Agreement calls for Shenzhen to "take the lead in experimenting with some of MOCA's major reform projects and measures." Please visit CECC’s Virtual Academy for a full English translation of the Agreement.

Shenzhen, located immediately north of Hong Kong in the Pearl River Delta region of Guangdong province, was one of the first localities to be designated as a "special economic zone" by Deng Xiaoping in 1980. It is mainland China's richest city based on per capita GDP, according to an August 2008 China Daily report.

The July 2009 Agreement outlines 34 reforms in the area of civil affairs. Five of these 34 reforms are listed below:

  • "strengthen the building of grassroots democracy, research the adoption of the documentation system and other methods, vigorously develop community-based social organizations, enhance the ability of communities to self-govern" (Item 4 in section of Agreement marked "Content of Agreement").
  • "Unless other regulations specify otherwise, explore establishing a system whereby civil society organizations apply and register directly with the Ministry of Civil Affairs. The Ministry of Civil Affairs shall regard this as a point for observation, tracking, and research" (Item 11).
  • "Ministry of Civil Affairs will consult with relevant departments regarding the transfer of administrative and registration jurisdiction over foreign foundations with representative offices in Shenzhen to the Shenzhen municipal government, authorize the city of Shenzhen to launch a pilot project regarding the registration and management of foundations, chambers of commerce, and trans-provincial trade associations" (Item 12).
  • "promote the transfer of government functions for public services that social organizations are capable of undertaking, especially newly increased public services; government procurement services, delegation or contracting of responsibilities, and other methods can be adopted―[in order to] support the provision of public services by social organizations" (Item 14).
  • "accelerate the establishment of a legal incorporation management system for charitable organizations, increase the public creditability of charitable organizations, explore the creation of a system that can effectively link, and to a moderate degree separate, the collection, use, and supervision of charitable funds, [and] move forward on constructing the standardization of charitable groups" (Item 27).

Under existing national laws, civil society organizations are unable to apply for registration directly with MOCA. Instead, civil society organizations first must be approved by a sponsor organization, or "leading professional unit" (yewu zhuguan danwei), which generally are limited to certain government departments and government-approved organizations. (See Article 6, Rules and Regulations on Social Organizations.) As noted in the CECC 2009 Annual Report, the requirement that civil society organizations first be approved by a sponsor organization before applying for registration with MOCA contravenes a clause of Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that governments shall place no restrictions on the freedom of association other than those "…which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others…"

For more information on civil society and non-governmental organizations in China, see Section III―Civil Society (pp. 203-207) in the CECC 2009 Annual Report.