Thursday, December 13, 2012

Can the Chinese Government Both Support and Micromanage NGOs?

Here's one of the Policy Briefs I wrote for China Development Brief in November. It's about whether the Chinese government can have it both ways. It want to support the development of NGOs, but at the same time, closely manage and supervise that developmental process. But doesn't the latter ultimately subvert the former? Here's what I said:

In the run-up to the 18th Party Congress which opened November 8 and ended November 15 with the announcement of China’s new leadership core, the news falls into two categories of policy trends that we have been seeing over this past year.

The first of these trends involves policies that are more supportive of social organizations, the official term in China for nonprofits or NGOs.  These policies come in different forms.  One is the continuation of reforms at the local level to make registration easier for social organizations. This month, much of the news has been about reforms in the wealthy eastern province of Zhejiang, such as the cities of Ningbo and Wenzhou. Another policy involves local governments, in places like Guangdong and Sichuan, setting up special funds to support and incubate social organizations and contract services to social organizations. More localities are financing these special funds using public welfare lottery money.  Some environmental NGOs, however, have found that the funds used for purchasing services from social organizations are not sufficient to carry out their projects.
The second trend involves policies seeking to better regulate and manage the social organization sector. We have seen some of these policies and guidelines come out over the last few months. This month, we hear about other methods the government is using to standardize the sector. Both the Ministry of Civil Affairs and local Civil Affairs bureaus are providing ratings to registered social organizations, although it is not clear what goes into creating these ratings. With a 3A-level rating or above from the Ministry, a social organization may receive awards, and is given priority for government contracting. With a 4A-level rating or above, an organization can undergo a simplified process for its yearly inspection.  An organization’s rating is good for a three-year period and is based on a 1000 point rating system.

Ratings may not be a bad idea if done correctly, but another method that has been making the news is the Party’s efforts to become involved in managing social organizations. We touched on this in our last Policy Brief where we discussed the role of the Social Affairs Committee which is a newly formed agency under the local Party Committee responsible for social affairs which includes the development of social organizations. This month, we continue to hear more news about efforts to establish Party branches and groups within social organizations. This trend would mean both the government and Party would be involved in supervising social organizations.

It is not clear how the government and Party would coordinate their specific roles and responsibilities, but the involvement of both Party and government bureaucracies in managing social organizations is not a good sign. It runs counter to the first trend of supporting social organizations and making it easier for them to operate. Perhaps the Party and government see their efforts to manage social organizations as a good faith, paternalistic gesture to provide guidance and support. But they could also be interpreted as micromanagement, and an attempt to exercise stricter supervision over social organizations. As one article in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, makes clear, “loosening restrictions” over social organizations does not mean authorities should “become lax or complacent”.

Micromanagement not withstanding, some observers have been optimistic about the future for social organizations after the 18th Party Congress.  Professor Wang Ming, director of Tsinghua University’s NGO Research Center and one of the leading authorities on China’s NGOs, is bullish on the future for social organizations, noting that the 18th Party Congress continued the same strong support for social organizations expressed at the 17th Party Congress in 2007.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

China Development Brief's December Newsletter -- New "Weekly Civil Society News" Feature

I'm reposting here China Development Brief (English)'s December Newsletter.  CDB (English) is the place to go for information and resources about China's nonprofit, NGO, philanthropic space.  Check our stuff out!

Highlight: New "Weekly Civil Society News" Feature

In order to help our readers keep up with the rapidly-changing landscape of Chinese civil society, CDB has developed a new weekly feature which compiles some of the most interesting and groundbreaking Chinese and English-language news articles concerning Chinese NGOs, with an emphasis on government policy. Here is the most recent Weekly Civil Society News, and please check our homepage on Fridays for weekly updates!

Policy Briefs

Special Report

Featured Articles
Bringing “Pro Bono” to Beijing: A Case Study in Localizing International Practices

Between Heaven and Hell: Grassroots NGOs in Central China
Introduction: As part of CDB’s series on NGOs in Anhui, this article chronicles the struggles and slow progress of public service NGOs working in China’s central region of Henan, Shanxi, Anhui, Hebei and Hubei.

Laos’ Ban Chim Village: The First Partnership Between a Chinese NGO and a Chinese Company Overseas

Yang Guang: From MSM Trailblazer to Marching in Place
Introduction: As part of her series on NGOs in Anhui, CDB Senior Staff Writer, Guo Ting, provides a moving account of an MSM (Men who have Sex with Men) worker’s 14 year effort to provide a space for gay men in Fuyang, Anhui to get counseling and HIV testing.

Ma Zhengzhou: An AIDS Relief Practitioner on the Frontlines

The Culture of China’s Environmental Movement
Introduction: A group of young environmentalists offer a critical examination of what they see as the shortcomings of the current environmental movement in China.

Reflecting on “Activism” in China’s Environmental Movement
Introduction: A group of young environmentalists argue that more strategic thinking and reflection, and less of an “action first” mentality, is needed if China’s environmental movement is going to succeed.

Roundtable on the Impact of Recent Policy Changes on China’s NGOs
Introduction: In May of this year, CDB invited a diverse group of NGOs to share their views regarding recent policy reforms in the NGO sector at both the national and local levels.  What they had to say should be read by everyone who is concerned about the impact these reforms will have on China’s nascent civil society….

Yang Yunbiao’s Brainchild: A Rural Cooperative in Anhui
Introduction: CDB Senior Staff Writer, Guo Ting, delves into the fascinating world of rural cooperatives in this profile of an Anhui cooperative founded by Yang Yunbiao, a former rural rights-defense (weiquan) activist…..

The 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center Opens Its Chuandao Academy
Introduction: CDB Researcher, Fu Tao, profiles the Chuandao Academy which was set up by the Chengdu-based 512 Voluntary Relief Services Center to promote exchange and learning among grassroots NGOs….

Forthcoming Articles

In the next month, we will have articles appearing on gender and feminism, a "voluntourism" NGO, and an oral history of Xu Bai, founder of Golden Key, an organization that promotes education for blind children.

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