Written by Jennifer Y.J. Hsu and Reza Hasmath.
China’s Overseas NGO Law came into effect on 1 January 2017. At last count, 20 overseas NGOs received registration status in Beijing plus a handful in other major Chinese cities. Although it may be early to make assessments of the law on overseas NGOs operating in China and more directly on Chinese NGO sector, we seek to extrapolate further in this article by considering the effects of such political environment on the role of Chinese NGOs making a global impact. Given that the law has generated concern amongst practitioners and observers both within and outside of China where the law is seen as an indication of space tightening for civil society stakeholders, it leads us to ask the question: Can Chinese NGOs contribute to international development and global civil society given the tight political environment that governs NGOs in China? This is a particularly opportune time to examine such a question, as governments around the world from seemingly democratic countries, such as India, and new democracies, such as Hungary, to the increasingly autocratic Russia, are curtailing the space for civil society actors, including NGOs; and, with the US under Trump seeking to retreat to a more isolationist stance, there are questions as to whether China will step up to be the next global leader. The use of NGOs as a form of a nation’s soft power, conducting development projects and giving aid, to sway and influence others is one that is not new and is widely used by traditional donors like the US and UK. Using NGOs thus presents a possible strategy for the Chinese to increase its global influence. However, given the domestic environment we question whether the political constraints will permit Chinese NGOs, and thus China to step into the foreground as a leader in global development and advocate for the liberal values that are associated with global civil society. Continue reading “The Overseas NGO Law and its Effects on Chinese NGOs’ Contribution to Global Development”