05/21/2010, 00.00
CHINA
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Beijing launches new crackdown on NGOs

The Chinese government greatly fears the work of NGOs, considering them "infiltrators”, and tries in every way to stop them. A centre for legal assistance to women is closed and the founder of an anti-AIDS group risks arrest. A source tells AsiaNews: "They fear a job well done, highlighting their inefficiency."

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The Chinese government continues to impede in very possible way the work of NGOs operating within their territory. In fact, not even the disastrous earthquake that struck the western province of Qinghai, has softened Beijing’s line, which sees in the NGOs as dangerous “infiltration cells” that put the exclusive management (of the Party) of all human and economic resources at risk.

The most recent complaint in order of time comes from Guo Jianmei - a renowned lawyer and founder of the Women’s Legal Research & Services Centre –who in a public document writes: "Our work is hampered by a deficient legal environment, flawed enforcement systems, administrative interference, local protectionist policies, industry protectionism, and even corruptive practices within the judicial system".

Guo’s group, a legal aid group representing China’s poorest women, had its official ties to prestigious Beijing University cut.  According to an anonymous representative of the very University that gave the group political protection, “the move is part of the “metabolic processes” of an academic institution”. But a professor, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds: "The truth is that the group was asked to no longer accept external legal cases, but did not."

Foreign NGOs in China are freer than local ones. The government does not fear because them because their commitment to the territory is temporary and in a crisis, they can be easily expelled. On the other hand local NGOs are greatly feared because, they reveal the flaws of the social system, and are considered a "potential factor of social disharmony and therefore destabilizing”. Despite the serious humanitarian and environmental crises that have hit the country, Beijing prefers not to allow volunteers to work on the field at the peril of life of survivors.

Moreover from March 1 this year, a new regulation has imposed tight restrictions on official Chinese NGOs that receive donations from abroad: among them, strict agreements signed before a notary, complicated and very detailed documents explaining the origin and destination of funds. Some experts, however, the new rules only apply to independent organizations, leaving government sponsored bodies free to operate (and receive money).

These new laws are retroactive, meaning that everyone is at risk. Wan Yanhai, founder of the famous Aizhixing Institute (which is seeking to contrast the spread of AIDS in the country) fears the closure of the centre over a series of tax investigations launched by the Beijing exchequer. The authorities have asked Wan - who left China recently - to produce "all documents relating to the receipt of funds from 2002 until now, on pain of arrest." The activist believes this request "simply impossible to fulfil."

A source for AsiaNews in China working in the field of the disabled explains the difference between NGOs from abroad and those born in Chinese, which are more closely monitored because they are considered to be dangerous: "The foreign groups are the branch of a body that is based abroad: they come here, invest their money and leave. Of course they need the government authorisation, but this tends to concede an increasing number of permits with fewer restrictions”.

To register a Chinese NGO, he goes on to explain, "you must have a background in banking, real estate, legal representation and many other things, required in all countries. However, what is required only here in China – an entirely unique phenomenon - is the requirement of finding a government sponsor as a go between who will also vet for the organizations with the government. He or she is a kind of guarantor and broker, very hard to find in government: they fear that a job well done by a NGOs will highlight the terrible inadequacies of the official institutions”.

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