An independent source of analysis on foreign NGOs working in China is ending its run after five years.
The China NGO Project is ending a five-year run that began in response to the passage of China’s Foreign NGO Law, which came into force on January 1, 2017.
Throughout the years, the Project – a platform hosted by online magazine ChinaFile – performed an invaluable monitoring role for foreign NGOs, helping them to navigate new administrative procedures that determined whether they could continue or initiate their work in China.
The loose law, however, left local officials with significant wiggle room to “enforce unspoken protocols” that limited which foreign NGOs could move forward and the type of work they could do. Then came 2020. The cataclysm of COVID-19 effected a huge change for NGOs, dramatically curbing the flow of people coming into the country. The pandemic pause combined with the implementation of Hong Kong’s National Security Law later that year curtailed “space for all civil society” in Hong Kong, notably impacting NGOs based in the city with programs in mainland China.
As the China NGO Project bows out, the monitor has submitted its final foreign NGO snapshot and notes that strangely, as “momentous” as recent changes have been, the overall trend of international nonprofit work in China remains consistent. Foreign NGOs “still tend to focus on work congenial to Beijing and eschew ‘controversial’ issue areas like media, human rights, or religious issues” with trade and industry associations dominating China’s percentage of new registrations for representative offices within the country.
A ChinaFile article authored more than a year before the announced closure of the China NGO Project, looks at the declining presence of foreign NGOs in China and the dangers and complications of less engagement with international actors and the road ahead for on-the-ground “engagers” trying to maintain that connection.