09/01/2006, 00.00
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Communist paper praises foreign NGOs

For the first time, a state-controlled publication positively reviews the work of foreign NGOs. The article urges the party to adopt a common approach to the issue.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – An important Communist Party paper has published an article which, for the first time, praises the work of non governmental organisations operating in China, but also laying out the mainland's conflicting concerns over their influence on the country.

A signed article in a recent issue of the Study Times, the newspaper of the Central Party School, criticised the two extreme views of non-governmental organisations in which "one demonises foreign NGOs, while the other deify them".

The article criticised those who took what it called a biased attitude and see NGOs as harbouring ""dark designs". But it also took issue with NGOs' supporters who seem to think that the latter are the only ones to have made a strong contribution to the social development of the country.

For the article's author, the authorities should conduct a comprehensive and objective assessment before drafting relevant regulations.

First of its kind to appear in the official media, the article went to considerable lengths to highlight the positive role foreign NGOs play in the mainland, saying that their overall influence was "good, positive, and active".

It praised foreign NGOs for bringing capital, experience and know-how, for helping the country's development and promoting the rule of law.

"This is what is needed for China's development and progress," it said.

Yet, the article also claims that some foreign NGOs have contributed to the growth of corruption, and for this reason bear "an unshirkable responsibility". Although no examples are given, it claims that foreign NGOs have a limited capacity to monitor how funds are spent and projects implemented.

The article comes in the wake of more than a year of government investigations into foreign and domestic NGOs. And according to Nick Young, editor of the China Development Brief, a Beijing organisation that reports on NGOs working on the mainland, this close scrutiny of NGOs is linked to fears about the "colour revolutions" that shook Central Asia, the Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan in recent years.

Mr Young reports that a survey of domestic NGOs showed that they "share many of the government's objectives and agendas" and that the "Chinese government has nothing to fear from NGOs."

He added that the government investigation could have a positive effect in the long run, by reducing the mystery surrounding NGOs.

China's senior leadership might "get the message that most of these organisations out there are actually good guys, they are the best of their kind, they are the best of their communities, who really want to do something," he said, and that "fundamentally, their objectives are not anti-Chinese [or] anti-Communist".

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