Beijing Water

China suspicious of nonprofit organizations

Jehangir S. Pocha
San Francisco Chronicle
June 25, 2006
China fears that money from the West may be backing democracy: political and environmental activist Dai Qing, for example, organized training camps for NGOs sponsored by Probe International and the Open Society Institute.

Beijing: In the United States it might seem odd for the government to crack down on Habitat for Humanity or Goodwill, yet here authorities have been conducting intrusive audits of China’s fledgling nongovernmental organizations.

NGOs – mostly nonprofit organizations involved in a wide range of social, medical and environmental work – have only recently been allowed to operate in China, and some have been focusing attention on the country’s human rights and environmental policies.

[Some say state audits of NGOs] are an understandable reaction to concerns in Beijing that the United States, Europe and some wealthy individuals have been using NGOs as fronts to push for greater democracy, and even regime change, in authoritarian states around the world.

In April, the Chinese media, including Hong Kong-based Open magazine, have reported that President Hu Jintao issued a report entitled “Fighting the People’s War Without Gunsmoke,” which exhorts officials to contain a potential “counter-revolution” by increasing Internet censorship, removing controversial books from libraries and closing down potentially subversive organizations.

Thousands of Chinese NGOs actively working in areas such as environmentalism, human rights, AIDS, labor rights and religious freedom that have received funds from overseas have been investigated by the government over the last year, say activists.

“They’ve gone around asking: ‘What is your real purpose? Are you trying to overthrow the government?'” said Nick Young, editor of China Development Brief, a Beijing-based journal focused on China’s aid and nonprofit community. “This may make no sense to you or me, but it makes perfect sense to the folks doing it because they are trained to find conspiracies and temperamentally inclined to suspect there is more than meets the eye.”

Last year, more than 87,000 public protests swept China. While there is no official tally of NGO involvement, many protests were jointly organized by several NGOs openly working together.

Dai Qing, a political and environmental activist who was jailed for a year after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, organized training camps for NGOs that were sponsored by Probe International, which tracks Canadian aid, and the Open Society Institute, which advocates democratic governance.

But while China’s once-disparate, underfunded, untrained and badly equipped NGOs are learning to organize and empower themselves, there’s little evidence to show they are anti-state.

Yu Xiaogang, director of Green Watershed, an environmental NGO in southern Yunnan province, said the recent wave of audits might end up convincing the government that most Chinese NGOs do not have sinister motives.

“Things improved after a conference of NGOs the government organized in Beijing in November,” he said. “Most of the investigations have already recognized the role of NGOs in China, and their basic finding is that China needs to develop more NGOs.”

To read the full story.

Categories: Beijing Water

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