China Seeks to Chill Foreign Funding of NGOs
Washington, D.C.—Continuing a troubling global trend of authoritarian crackdowns on civil society and foreign-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Chinese President Xi Jinping has led an effort to create a new law restricting the work of foreign organizations and their local contacts. The law could impact more than seven thousand NGOs.
“Over the last decade, but especially over the last few years, we have seen a distinct trend as citizens have become more connected than ever through technology and the internet, while their activism has been met with broader and more punitive restrictions on speech and association,” said Human Rights First’s Melissa Hooper.
This global phenomenon has grown out of the leadership of a few authoritarian states, particularly Russia and Venezuela. More than one hundred states have recently passed legislative restrictions on foreign funding and foreign cooperation with NGOs.
Human Rights First notes that leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, have railed against the NGOs out of fear that they will promote revolutions aiming to topple the government. A recent report by Human Rights First and Free Russia, “Russia’s Bad Example,” found that a robust civil society allows citizens to peacefully air grievances and diminishes the allure of more violent and radical means of pushing for change.
“The extremely restrictive law in China is right in line with the phenomenon we are seeing emanating from many authoritarian regimes, in which the government seeks to control civil society and fails to recognize the contributions NGOs bring—not only to society but also to the government’s functioning,” noted Hooper. “This fear of foreign influence is based on a fallacy that NGOs threaten national sovereignty—when in fact they can strengthen it.”
As part of the U.S. government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) initiative, launched by President Obama in February 2015, senior U.S. officials have stressed the importance of protecting civil society space as a way of countering the threat of terrorism. Under Secretary of State Sarah Sewall has said that “an integrated CVE approach depends on … safeguarding space for these actors to operate peacefully and express their views.”
Among the China-based activists targeted by the law are those working on equality, access to counsel, religious freedom, environmental policy, workers’ rights, and other human rights issues. Many fear the new law will have a chilling effect on foreign funding previously slated to support already under-resourced activities on the ground in China.
Egypt, Russia, Venezuela, and India have implemented similar laws, and Israel and Kazakhstan currently laws under consideration.