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New York City Bar Association Voices Concern over China’s Draft NGO Management Law


Eric Friedman
(212) 382-6754

Kathryn Inman
(212) 382-6656

New York City Bar Association Voices Concern over China’s Draft NGO Management Law

New York, July 13, 2015 – In a letter to the presidents of the Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou Bar Associations, the New York City Bar Association expressed concern over the current draft of the People’s Republic of China Non-Mainland Non-Governmental Organization Management Law with regards to its scope and potential effects.

The letter, prepared by the Committees on Asian Affairs and International Human Rights and signed by City Bar President Debra Raskin, notes that the Association “has long sought to deepen its relationship with and to promote the rule of law in China,” but is generally concerned that “the Draft Law’s ambiguous and potentially expansive breadth, as well as the onerous registration and approval requirements it places on foreign non-governmental organizations (“NGOs”), will unduly discourage many foreign NGOs from engaging in a variety of beneficial exchanges with China.”

The entities covered by the Draft Law span a wide range of sectors, including universities, scientific institutes, charities, environmental and cultural organizations, humanitarian organizations, and trade groups. “Through their participation in China’s growth and progress, such organizations have enabled mutually profitable relationships between China and its most valued international partners in trade, cultural exchange, and strategic cooperation, and have no doubt contributed much to China’s present prosperity and strength.”

However, the letter continues, “unimpeded mutual exchange between China and the rest of the world is a vital part of that process, a process in which foreign NGOs play a crucial role.” As the letter states, the Draft Law “will have numerous negative consequences for China’s ability to import cultural and knowledge capital from the rest of the world,” three of which are most serious:

• The scope of the Draft Law is ambiguous and potentially overbroad. The Draft Law governs the “activities” of any “not-for-profit, non-governmental social organization established outside of mainland China.” The term “activity” is undefined. This scope of application potentially includes every possible type of foreign NGO, and every possible form of activity it may undertake.

• The Draft Law stipulates a multi-stage registration and sponsorship process that sets a high cost of compliance. The Draft Law requires that each covered organization seeking to conduct an activity in China obtain both a government sponsor and approval from the ministry of public security, and stipulates an open-ended continuing obligation to submit to monitoring, thereby imposing administrative and compliance costs on organizations, which many would find difficult to sustain.

• The Draft Law’s ambiguities impose enormous uncertainties, even for organizations that can afford to meet its registration requirements. The Draft Law contains numerous ambiguities, from the lack of specificity as to the criteria upon which an NGO’s application for approval will be assessed, to the lack of specified penalties for violation of the law, which may deter organizations from participating in activities in China regardless of their ability to respond to the law’s stipulations.

For many organizations, including the City Bar, the letter states, “the effort required to respond to the Draft Law’s broad and ambiguous stipulations is unduly burdensome,” and concludes that if China “is to continue reaping the numerous benefits of exchanges that NGOs facilitate, we respectfully request that China seriously re-consider the potential impact and current framework of the Draft Law.”

The letter can be read here:

About the Association
The New York City Bar Association, since its founding in 1870, has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the legal profession, promoting reform of the law and access to justice, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association, through its 24,000 members, continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.