06/25/2012, 00.00
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Guangdong ready to open to NGOs: another step forward for Wang Yang

A new regulation intended by the Provincial Secretary includes the use of non-governmental organizations for the management of some social services. This is a landmark reform for popular participation in decision-making mechanisms, up to now under Communist officials control. Experts applaud Wang for his bravery, but warn that "only time will give any real answer." A union source tells AsiaNews: "Change seems to be in the air. Before they saw us as enemies, now they ask us for a hand to solve difficult situations. "

Guangzhou (AsiaNews) Guangdong's provincial government has introduced a mechanism to outsource services including legal consultation and policy research to non-government organisations (NGOs) to reform social management.  This means buying services from NGOs in areas such as education, housing, social welfare and legal assistance. The move is part of social reform policies aimed at stepping up development of the province's community life.

The Communist secretary of the province, Wang Yang, is among the supporters of this change. Considered a reformer, as opposed to conservative figures such as former leaders of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, Wang has managed social crisis that could trigger mass of bloody revolts in a different, democratic way. The case of Wukan - the village that rebelled against their corrupt leaders and that, after months of protests, obtained government support - was seen as a personal victory of the secretary. Who now seems to be trying to open up to even greater reforms.

NGO experts and officials argue that the new mechanism could help to give more weight to the organizations, but also warn that the system for funding such actions could be manipulated to enhance control of some particular groups. Religious NGOs, for example, have suffered over the last year from more stringent systematic controls than less "dangerous" organisations from the central government's viewpoint.

For years, teachers, intellectuals and social workers (both Chinese and international) have asked Beijing to liberalize a system which is currently very complicated and restrictive. The NGOs, support them, have a key role in the life and building up of society. The communist government, however, lives in fear of what it cannot control. As a result the government has imposed on all such organisations a "patron", an administrative official acting as guarantor, who in reality is there to control their work.

Ma Hua of Sun Yat-sen University's Centre on Philanthropy said provincial party chief Wang Yang was an open-minded leader, but the push for empowering NGOs was part of a broader movement. "This is one of the Guangdong government's innovations. It shows they are willing to listen to the public but we need to wait and see how the implementation works in reality."

According to Willy Wo-Lap Lam, one of the most distinguished scholars of contemporary China, Wang "has pointed to the emphasis on mass participation in the political process. The Secretary has asked his officials to maintain the initiative and creativity of the masses. He also stressed that at the beginning of a reform process there were obstacles arising from ideological differences, but now the enemy to beat is the configuration of interest groups at the summit of power. "

Professor Chan Kin-man, who directs the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Chinese University, said the new regulation is "significant, because it encourages people's participation and allows government funds to return to the base where they come from." However, the academic says the will not be any major rapid changes. "Even in a relatively open province such as Guangdong, I don't think the results of outsourced public opinion polling, for instance, will be disclosed."

Other areas remain under government censorship. Zhiru Zhang, head of labour disputes in Shenzhen, applauded the new regulation but warned: "Not all NGOs are treated equally. The local government doesn't want us to exist as they see us as troublemakers because we petition for labour rights and represent workers in court to fight for what they have lost "

Chongguo Cai, one of the leaders of the China Labour Bulletin - the first free trade union in China, founded during the riots in Tiananmen Square, based in Hong Kong - however, tells AsiaNews that "beyond the laws in force or under consideration, the situation seems to be changing. Whereas before we were seen as enemies, now we are increasingly called upon by the Guangdong government to resolve labour issues. They understood that the compromise solution, and not repression, is safer option for economic growth and development of society. "

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