China’s Implementation of the Overseas NGO Management Law

中文 English

Editor’s Note

This article originally appeared in Southern Weekly (南方周末) on the 9th of February 2017. It was written by Tsinghua University professor Jia Xijin. Below is CDB’s translation of the unabridged version authorized by the author.

 

On January 1 2017, the “People’s Republic of China’s Overseas NGO Domestic Activities Management Law” officially went into effect. One month later, the first group of overseas NGOs’ Representative Offices obtained their registration credentials in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. The low-key process of drawing up the law attracted widespread attention, but the legislative process is currently still unfolding.

 

Overseas NGOs in China: companions in reform

Overseas non-governmental organizations, abbreviated as overseas NGOs, are specifically defined as foreign-established non-governmental organizations whose operations take place in China. They are also routinely called “Overseas Civil Society Organizations in China” (境外在华民间组织).  The origin of contact between China and NGOs can be traced back to the beginning of the twentieth century, when China’s contacts with western civilization began to increase dramatically. A lengthy letter addressed to Rockefeller concerning his 1905 Charitable Enterprise Executive Plan is stored in the Rockefeller Archives. It fervently advocates for him to set his sights on the Far East, particularly China: “throughout world history, this is the first time that all nations and islands are opened up”.

In 1916, the Beijing Union Medical College was established through funds from the Rockefeller Foundation. In the 1950s China and the international community drifted apart, and despite the onset of the McCarthy era’s Second Red Scare in the US the Ford Foundation decided to swim against the current. Thereafter, the Foundation’s board of directors decided to “enhance contributions to the understanding of other nations instead of rolling out plans to strengthen America’s efforts in countering the world”. During the heyday of the White Terror era, when it became taboo to research in China, it supported Chinese studies in the United States, and it continued to store up talent and knowledge for the day when US-China relations would be restored.

Periods of robust overseas NGO activity in China bloomed alongside China’s own reforms. In 1972, the National Committee for Sino-American relations and the US Table Tennis Association invited China’s national ping-pong team to visit the US, thus beginning the thawing of China’s isolation, and this became known as “Table Tennis Diplomacy”. The 1978 Third Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee, in response to the needs of Sino-international exchange and rapid economic growth, invited the first group of overseas NGOs to return to China.

In 1978, the Ford Foundation began its Chinese projects. In 1988, the State Council officially approved the first office in Mainland China;

In 1979 the Asia Foundation, in coordination with the State Council’s Science and Technology Commission, convened China’s first international computer seminar;

In 1980, the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) became the first environmental organization to be invited to China;

In 1984, with the support of the United Nations Development Program, China’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation sent a special task-force to four European nations to seek cooperation with more than fifty NGOs;

In 1985, China’s International Economic and Technical Exchange Centre established the International NGO Liaison Office, whose aid agreements with Oxfam, Germany’s Agricultural Action and Holland’s International Development Initiative went into effect the following year.

In 1995, the United Nations World Conference on Women convened in Beijing, with the city hosting an unprecedented 3,000 overseas NGOs. We can see clearly how NGOs developed parallel to China’s “Opening-up and Reform Policy”, touching upon fields such as education, health, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, international diplomacy, grassroots democracy, judicial training, and policy legislation.

In 1994, for example, the International Republican Institute (IRI) in conjunction with the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs conducted village election observations in Fujian and Guangxi.

In 1998, the Carter Center accepted an invitation from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the NPC to observe the general election of the Chongqing People’s Congress. Afterwards, the Carter Center cooperated with the government and used previous experiences to revise clauses.

There is a relationship between the way that official Chinese attitudes towards overseas NGOs are once again becoming more sensitive and the 2005 Colour Revolutions. There were changes of regime in the Commonwealth of Independent States and in North African and Middle Eastern countries, and some attributed this to the evolution of Western strategy, and called for vigilance regarding the role overseas NGOs had played. In 2009, the State Administration of Exchange Control sent out an “announcement regarding domestic institutions’ management of foreign exchange donations”, which reinforced the management of inbound and outbound funds. There was also a gradual reduction of the overseas NGO programs on democracy, reform, legislation and public policy that had been numerous in the nineties.

 

Legislation: Safety and Rule of Law

During the long period of the “Reform and Opening-up” policy, the Chinese government fumbled with its “Three Nos Policy” towards overseas NGOs (no recognition, no banning, no contact), which in practice handed over policy-making authority and judgement to regional departments. Before the enactment of the “Overseas NGO Domestic Activities Management Law” (abbreviated to Overseas NGO Law), overseas NGOs were fundamentally outside of the purview of domestic laws that governs Chinese social organizations. Social organization management departments explored whether to incorporate them into a unified management system, and in 2004 the “Regulation of the Management of Foundations” granted overseas NGOs in China registration permission to establish representative offices, which was a very daring first step. Up until 2016, with the enactment of the Overseas NGO Law, there were only twenty-nine overseas NGOs that set up representative offices.

Also in 2004, Shanghai’s Civil Organization Administration launched a pilot project for foreign chambers of commerce and overseas public welfare organizations to register as private non-enterprise units, approving the establishment of foreign private enterprises in Shanghai such as the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Million Tree Project, meanwhile accepting the Ministry of Civil Affairs Commission’s draft of the “Measures for the Administration of Registration of Foreign Social Organizations”. In 2008, Yunnan was one of the observation points for the Ministry of Civil Affairs’ reform and innovation of six social organizations, undertaking a pilot program of overseeing the registration of overseas NGOs. In 2009 the “Standard Overseas NGO Activities Provisional Regulation of Yunnan” was passed, and in 2010 the representative offices of Oxfam and thirteen other overseas NGOs were the first ones to obtain official records. The attempt by Overseas NGOs to register into China’s unified social organization management system was accompanied by the intensification of China’s political sensitivity towards overseas NGOs, but in the end a unified social organization management system was not officially established.

Since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012, the current government’s approach to national governance has shown some differences from the Deng Xiaoping era concept of “crossing the river by feeling the stones”. It has been characterized by the establishment of regulations and clearer systems and the unified deployment of forces. When it comes to the management of overseas NGOs, during the third session of the 18th CPC National Congress, the “Decision on certain important problems related to the comprehensive deepening of reform” clearly emphasized the need to “strengthen the management of social organizations and overseas NGOs and lead them to abide by the law while carrying out activities”.

In 2014, the Fourth Plenum focused on the rule of law, further motivating China to enter a period of robust law writing. In the realm of social organizations, the charity law was passed after 10 years of hesitation, and a schedule was proposed for the passing of a law on overseas NGOs. In June 2014, Chinese and foreign media reported on the National Security Commission’s deployment of a fact-finding survey on overseas NGOs. In May 2015, feedback from the public was solicited regarding the second review of the draft of the Overseas NGOs Management Law. On April 28th 2016, the proposed “Overseas NGOs Activities Management Law” was finally passed after going through the NPC Standing Committee, and it was implemented on the first of January of this year.

The background to the formulation of the “Overseas NGO Law” on the one hand shows us that China’s level of consideration towards national security cannot be compromised. Feedback from the public was sought for the second review of the law’s second draft and for the second review of the draft of the “National Security Act” at around the same time. As the “Overseas NGO Law” was announced during the National People’s Congress’s press conference, the National Standing Committee’s Deputy Director of Law, Zhang Yongdan, stated that “certainly there is a very small number of overseas NGOs who have attempted or have even already done things that threaten the stability of Chinese society or security”.

The head of the Ministry of Public Security’s administrative office for NGOs, Hao Yunhong, pointed out that having a welcoming attitude towards overseas NGOs has a positive effect, but we have to strengthen the management of “a very small number of overseas NGOs” engaging in “illegal activities that damage China’s national security and interests”. In the realm of national security it is not only China that has increased its management of overseas NGOs, for Vietnam, India, Russia, Egypt and other countries have successively strengthened their management and laws surrounding overseas funds and organizations.

Looking at it from another point of view, strengthening national security does not necessitate increased legislation. From the “Three No’s” Policy to clear legislation, the reality is that the 18th CPC National Congress brought about an embodiment of modern national administration and the construction of the rule of law. One could think that the formulation of the Overseas NGO Law is the result of combining worries about national security and the rule of law concepts of national governance. The challenges and opportunities this law presents also come from this source.

 

The first month of implementation

During the last two months of 2016, the Overseas NGO Law went through preparatory work conducted by the Public Security Bureau and other governmental departments, and information about the law started to be released to the society. On the 8th and 30th of November the Public Security Bureaus in Shanghai and Guangzhou separately convened briefings with some foreign consulates and NGOs, and on the 28th of November, the Public Security Bureau published the “Guidebook on the Registration of Overseas NGOs’ Representative Offices and Filing for Temporary Activities”. On December 20th the “List of Fields of Activity, Categories of Projects and Professional Supervisory Units for Overseas NGOs Carrying Out Activities in Mainland China” was published. Before the Overseas NGO Law officially went into effect on the first of January, preparatory work was carried out in three different fields.

First of all, the law established that directories of overseas NGOs’ fields of activity and projects and directories of supervisory units were to be made public on multiple levels nationally, for the benefit of all NGOs undergoing the preparations for the transition, applying to establish representative offices and beginning temporary activity filing procedures. Secondly, with the Public Security Bureau taking the lead and supervisory units participating, the coordination mechanism for the supervision and management of overseas NGO was established. Thirdly, Public Security Bureaus across China were to simultaneously establish a “Service Platform for Overseas NGOs Affairs” website, publish their service address and telephone number, and open their case handling windows.

On January 17, Shanghai’s Public Security Bureau’s Overseas NGO Management Office held the “Shanghai Overseas NGOs Representative Office Registration Credentials Awards Ceremony” at which the first group of six NGOs obtained their registration credentials, including: Project Hope (US), the YSL Foundation (Hong Kong), the US-China Business Council, the Canada-China Business Council, the Federal Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Russia) and the Confederation of Indian Industry.

On January 19, Guangdong Province’s first batch of six overseas NGOs also obtained their registration credentials, three of which came from Guangzhou’s Representative Office, including the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (Hong Kong), the China Manufacturers’ Association (Hong Kong), and the Trade Centre (Taiwan). Also included were the Hong Kong Industry Association from Shenzhen’s Representative Office and another NGO from Zhuhai.

On January 23, Beijing approved registration for twenty overseas NGO representative offices, all of which had already registered as representative offices of overseas foundations with the Ministry of Civil Affairs following the 2004 “Rules on the Management of Foundations. Out of the twenty-nine NGOs that originally registered, at present the Hong Kong YSL Foundation has set up representative offices in Shanghai, Project Hope has set up representative offices in Shanghai and Beijing, and nineteen other NGOs have set up representative offices in Beijing. The remaining eight NGOs still have not transferred (registration to Public Security Bureau). The Ministry of Civil Affairs acts as a supervisory unit for these organizations. At a briefing before the new year, the Public Security Bureau announced in conjunction with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the State Administration for Industry and Commerce that they had already prepared for overseas NGOs to register and transfer. The registration of these organizations can be seen as the first batch of transfers.

During the first month of the implementation of the “Overseas NGOs Law”, Shanghai, Guangdong and Beijing saw the registration of the first batch of 31 overseas NGOs’ representative offices. Most of these were part of the original twenty-one overseas NGOs designated in the “Rules on the Management of Foundations”, while the remaining ten were economics-related industry and commerce associations. The organizations came from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland, Canada, Russia and India as well as the regions of Hong Kong and Taiwan; while their areas of activity included the economy, sanitation and health, poverty alleviation, assistance, education, children and the environment.

There are three things we can see from the registration of this first batch of representative offices. The first one is continuity: the first batch of NGOs to register had previously been registered with the Ministry of Civil Affairs or the Administration of Industry and Commerce. When there was a change in the law, the government system just took account of the existing facts, especially regarding the organizations already registered with the Administration for Industry and Commerce which were not non-profit organization recognized by the law. It was a pragmatic way of dealing with the realities of the legal environment.

The second is that there is a higher degree of openness in the economic field.  Besides those representative offices of overseas foundations that relied on the transfer of their status under the previous law, the organizations that received legal status are all active in the economic field, showing the preference given to this field, and also that each province finds it easier to make the decision for themselves in this field.

The third is that implementing a law is also a process of fine-tuning its articles, charity being a good example. The third clause of the “Overseas NGO Law” requires that activities launched by overseas NGOs should be beneficial to the public welfare. The tenth article’s criteria require that the scope of services and the aim of NGOs be beneficial to the development of the public welfare sector. Generally speaking, industry, commerce and economic-type associations do not fall under the category of classic public welfare-type organizations. However, they took the lead in registering because of several factors related to the law’s fine-tuning and adjustment.

Going back to how each province’s Public Security Bureau worked on managing the registration of foreign NGOs, merely with regards to the setting up of the service platform websites, by the end of January the thirty-one provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions (plus Xinjiang) listed in the Public Security Bureau’s “Overseas NGOs handling service website” had established thirty-two handling services halls, and started an overseas NGOs management office or a service platform website. 15 lists of provincial-level supervisory units were also published. Regarding the information on supervisory units, Shanghai and Beijing published the phone numbers and addresses of each district’s tax bureau in the directory. Guangdong, Sichuan and Hebei separately published their own handbooks, with Sichuan publishing the first edition of its handbook on the operations of registration and filing. Out of the remaining ten provinces, which include Tianjin, Fujian, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangxi, Guangxi, Shaanxi, Gansu, Hainan and Anhui, all except for Anhui have a link to their own service platform website.

There are three provinces, Jilin, Zhejiang and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, that have established a specific purpose website or webpage and also set up a link to their service platform website, but haven’t yet released the list of their supervisory units. Aside from this, there are fourteen provinces whose service platforms websites still aren’t up and running. Out of these, the links for Shanxi, Liaoning, Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Henan, Ningxia and Xinjiang direct to the local PSB site, while the links for Inner Mongolia, Shandong, Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan, Qinghai, and Xinjiang simply state “temporarily not in service.”

Regarding online handling services, the management of the registration of overseas NGOs also presents another characteristic, which is a high level of uniformity. Even though each province has set up its own independent website and information platform, the service window links actually all take you to the Public Security Bureau’s overseas NGOs online affairs platform. The whole country has the same platform, the same account system, and the same online forms, and when making appointments to go over documents one can choose any province’s handling service hall from the drop-down menu.

 

An opportunity and a challenge

A month has already gone by since the law was implemented, and compared to when it was announced, there has been a gradual clarification of the ambiguity of some related information. First of all, the Public Security Department’s attitude towards the law and the high importance that the government obviously attached to it must be remarked upon. The Overseas NGOs’ Management Offices service window was installed in the Entry-Exit Administration Bureau, while the online form and appointment task-bar were made part of the Public Security Bureau’s integrated system. The log-in screen says “Welcome to China”. In contrast to the Chinese social organizations’ supervisory units operating under the “dual management” system, many supervisory units of overseas NGOs have already designated a specialist and set up a specific office that combines office functions.

Second, the scope of activities is not limited to the place of registration. China’s own social organizations usually adopt grade-ranked registration and management principals, and decide the area in which their activities take place on the basis of the grade at which they register. The registration of overseas NGOs’ representative offices takes place exclusively in provincial institutions. The Public Security Bureau only makes an overall coordination plan, but does not carry out the actual registration. This way the national ministries act as supervisory units while registration is at the provincial level. Currently the area of activity of registered representative offices is tied to the supervisory unit’s scope of activities, and they can register in one province but have activities in multiple provinces, even nation-wide. The public security system coordinates internally to manage inter-provincial activities. The law prohibits the establishment of branch offices, meaning that registering in one place and carrying out activities in multiple places is allowed, but they must be within the scope of the supervisory unit’s work, and they cannot be carried out by branch offices.

The third point concerns the feasibility and difficulty of preparing the relevant material. Out of the organizations that are preparing to register, there are some that are preparing the material in accordance with the handbook, but have realized when communicating with the authorities that there is a real gap between the understanding of the organization and that of the authorities, particularly regarding the information that has to be filled in. Sometimes they even have to start the process again. What is most time and energy-consuming is that many materials require local notarization, authentication and approval by the Chinese consular mission. This process is often in contrast to what is required in other nations, particularly in the United States, where Chinese diplomatic missions will only authenticate federal documents, with the United States’ Federal Government only accepting documents from state-level offices. The state notarizes the individual’s signature, thus for individuals getting document authentification at Chinese consular missions, it is necessary to first go to the Federal Government, and then go back to the individual authentification.

As far as current experiences with registering go, the largest challenge is still focusing on the supervisory unit. The first step is whether or not they are able to make contact: even though the list has been published, it is still difficult to track down the actual responsible department and contact them. The second step is whether or not the supervisory unit replies: if there is no contact made with the NGO, since there is no deadline for registration, the whole process can be put off indefinitely. The third step is the supervisory unit’s criteria for judging and auditing the field of activity: because it is not a matter of meeting legal requirements, there is a great deal of discretionary power.

The fourth issue is the one of coordination between different supervisory units, with the units responding case-by-case regarding the field of activity, division of labor and categorization according to administrative standards. For a large number of overseas NGOs, it is hard to completely place responsibility on any certain department, and in this way a certain shift of responsibilities occurs between supervisory units. On the other hand, even if a certain department acknowledges part of the responsibility, because of the way the government is structured, they have no authority or desire to coordinate with other government offices, and therefore a difficult position can arise regarding the supervisory unit and the fields of activity. Aside from this, overseas NGOs with smaller scale activities in counties or communities, overseas NGOs that have not legally registered, overseas NGOs that have no history of contact with as supervisory unit, and those that are completely new to the process have been meeting large obstacles.

Another central issue is choosing the field of activity. Especially in the case of financial aid foundations, the project and activity field are decided on the basis of the authorization received for the project, but it is hard for the organization to decide them in advance. Some activities are one-time research projects, so their range is flexible, changing in response to demand. For these there is no way to know the full scope of activities beforehand. If every time they have to change the venue they also need approval from the supervisory unit or cooperation from the Chinese partner unit, this would make seemingly simply activities extremely complicated.

Mentioned even less often are the cases of temporary activities. At first organizations imagined that if they were unable to obtain registration for a representative office, or were not required to register, they could first legitimize themselves by obtaining a temporary activity permit. However, up to now, there are still no actual cases of temporary activities being registered. The responsibility of obtaining approval for temporary activities rests not with the overseas NGOs, but rather with the Chinese cooperation units, namely the government, institutions, people’s organizations and registered social organizations. But when it comes to who to ask assistance from, how to apply and how to obtain approval, the law has made no clarification. The holes in the law have resulted in a greater uncertainty over the approval of temporary activities, and this another important aspect that is worth reflecting upon in the future.

 

The next things to watch out for

Regarding the first batch of overseas NGOs that obtained their registration credentials, what is really crucial is how the law will govern both NGO’s activities and governments’ supervision after the registration. Transferring registrations is a special case, which is insufficient to determine the smoothness of the legal process. In the coming months there will be two crucial outcomes worth watching for, the first being: which organizations in which regions will be able to obtain their registration credentials on their own and which will be able to obtain legitimacy through the approval of temporary activities.

In particular it is worth keeping an eye out for certain overseas NGOs that have a long history in China, whether through agreements with the government, local government platforms, Chinese cooperation partners, registration with the Ministry of Trade and Commerce, volunteering or other methods. Especially concerning the NGOs that entered China right after the “Reform and Opening-up” and accompanied the country through this process, the question of whether their names will continue to exist and whether they will remain in China not only impacts the public welfare sector, but is also a significant symbol of China’s openness and of its relationship with the international community.

Secondly, it is worth watching which organizations under which circumstances will have to comply with this law. According to the workflow regulations outlined in the “Overseas NGO Law”, for overseas NGOs there is a 90-day time limit from when they obtain documents of consent from their supervisory units to when they receive approval for registration from the administrative authorities. At the very least we can view the first three months of the law’s implementation as preparation time for registration.

Organizations with a strict legal awareness have temporarily halted all activities, but there are still all sorts of wide-ranging exchanges, visits, ongoing projects, visas for employees, and even member activities and online fundraising; the issue of whether these activities are legal or not cannot be escaped. The law has not yet defined the difference between “activities” and “temporary activities” and there are also still holes in the explanation of who exactly is the object of regulation. After the law’s implementation, on the one hand overseas NGOs have been confronted with a temporary choice: either register officially or cease any contact with China and their Chinese members, or otherwise assess the legal risks. On the other hand, Chinese law enforcement is also in a process of interpreting the laws, continually putting forward clarifications of legal definitions and parameters.

 

Rule of Law: a connection between China and the world.

“The Overseas NGOs Law” has been implemented for a month, and the first batch of NGOs has already registered, a manifestation of the government’s attitude. Once the law has been implemented for three months it will enter a period of examination of the legal process. On certain levels, towards the middle or end of this year the effects of the law will be more visible in society. This is also a point of pressure and a challenge for the current process of implementation of the law.

The operations of non-governmental organizations are diversified, flexible, cross-boundary, and able to quickly adjust based on society’s reactions. There is an inherent tension between this way of operating and the characteristics of the administrative divisions of the Overseas NGO Law. This is perhaps due to the increased discrepancy in legal concepts. Most overseas NGOs have a clear-cut legal awareness, and the policies set forth by the board of directors have to pass through the strict examination of their legal departments. How the Overseas NGO Law can be subsumed into the general trajectory towards the rule of law will be crucial for its enforcement.

For example, legal responsibilities and requirements have to be enforced in areas like how to clarify the definition of “activities”, the legal requirements of the supervisory units, whether to establish a comprehensive supervisory unit for activities spanning various different fields, the examination and approval procedures and standards for the Chinese cooperation partners needed for temporary activities and the regulations for member organizations. The enforcement must take place under principles of clarity, consistency, and feasibility, so as to avoid situations where a project is left in a limbo, neither approved nor rejected.

The rule of law will be the crux for the implementation of the Overseas NGO Law. This will not only determine the effects of the implementation of the law, but also represent a milestone in the creation of a Chinese rule of law that is integrated with the international community.

 

境外非政府组织境内活动管理法的中国实践

贾西津

(简本原发于2017年2月9日《南方周末》)

2017年1月1日,《中国人民共和国境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》正式施行。一个月过去,上海、广州、北京,第一批注册登记的境外非政府组织代表机构分别拿到了登记证书。这部低调立法、广受关注的法律,实施过程正在展开。

境外非政府组织在中国:伴改革生

境外非政府组织,简称境外NGO,在中国语境中特指设立在境外,而在华有开展活动的民间组织,也习惯称为“境外在华民间组织”。境外NGO与中国的渊源,至少自20世纪初中国在活跃接触西方文明的过程中就已开始。在洛克菲勒档案馆中,收藏着1905年其慈善事业总策划致洛克菲勒的长信,热切推介其将视野看向东方、中国:“在世界历史上,这是第一次,所有的国家,所有的海岛,都真的开放了。”1916年,北京协和医学院在洛克菲勒基金会的捐资下开建。1950年代以后,中国与国际社会逐渐隔离,即便在美国敌共的“麦卡锡时代”,仍然有福特基金会逆流而上,理事会战略决定“对增进各民族理解的贡献而不是加强美国对付广大世界能力的措施”,在中国研究成为禁忌的白色恐怖时期支持了美国的中国学研究,为日后中美恢复交流延续了人才和知识储备。

境外NGO在中国的活跃期随着中国自身的改革开放到来。1972年,美中关系全国委员会和美国乒乓球协会,邀请中国乒乓球代表团访美,即开启中美融冰的著名“乒乓外交”。1978年十一届三中全会后,随着中国与国际世界交流的日渐恢复和尽快经济发展的迫切需求,早期第一批前来的境外NGO大多以政府邀请的方式进入中国。1978年美国福特基金会开始中国项目,并于1988年由国务院签发文件第一个在中国大陆设立了办事处;1979年亚洲基金会支持国务院科委召开中国第一次计算机国际研讨会;1980年世界自然基金会(WWF)成为第一家受邀来华的国际环保组织;1984年,在联合国开发计划署的提议和支持下,中国对外经贸部首派专门工作小组出访欧洲四国与50余个国际NGO接触寻求合作,1985年商务部中国国际经济技术交流中心成立国际民间组织联络处,次年与英国乐施会、德国农业行动、荷兰国际开发行动等签署的第一份援助协议生效;1995年联合国世界妇女大会在北京召开,怀柔第一次见证了3000多家境外NGO人员参加的非政府组织论坛。几乎可以看到境外NGO伴随着中国改革开放的脚步,领域涉及教育、健康、扶贫开发、环境保护、国际交流,也包括基层民主、法官培训、政策立法,例如1994年美国共和研究所(IRI)就与中国民政部合作到福建、广西进行村民选举观察,1998年卡特中心受全国人大外事委员会邀请首次观摩重庆乡镇人大换届选举,此后并在政府合作协议下,为中国基层选举提供程序技术支持,一些实践经验体现在修订的法律条款中。

境外NGO在中国官方态度中重生微妙与2005年颜色革命潮涌有关。独联体国家和中东北非的一系列政权变故,有一种声音将之归为西方演变战略,并要警惕非政府组织在其中的作用。2009年国家外汇管理局下发《关于境内机构捐赠外汇管理有关问题的通知》,加强对进出境内外捐赠资金的管理,显示政府对境外非营利性机构趋于谨慎。1990年代活跃的有关民主、改革、立法和公共政策等的境外NGO项目逐渐缩减。

立法:安全与法治

改革开放长期以来,中国政府在实践中摸索出的对境外NGO“不承认、不取缔、不接触”的“三不”政策,实际将判断和决策的空间留给了各地方与具体实践部门。在《境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》(以下简称《境外NGO法》)颁布之前,境外NGO基本是不在中国社会组织管理的法律视野中的。社会组织管理部门曾经探索将之纳入统一的管理体系。2004年《基金会管理条例》开放境外基金会在华设立代表机构的登记,是在制度上迈出的最大胆一步,截至2016年《境外NGO法》颁布,十二年间依条例登记的境外基金会代表机构只有29家。同在2004年,上海市民间组织管理局试点将外国商会和境外公益类民间组织登记为民办非企业单位,批准成立了涉外民非如上海日本商工俱乐部和根与芽,并接受民政部委托起草了《涉外社会团体登记管理办法(草案)》。2008年云南作为民政部6个社会组织改革创新观察点之一,承担境外民间组织登记观察的试点工作,2009年出台《云南省规范境外非政府组织活动暂行规定》,2010年乐施会等13家境外NGO代表机构首批获得备案。将境外NGO纳入中国社会组织统一登记管理体系的尝试,其时正伴随中国对境外NGO的政治敏感性增强,统一管理体制终未成为正式的法律制度。

2012年十八大以后,本届政府在国家治理思路上体现了与邓小平时代形成的“摸着石头过河”所不同的特征,其中之一就是立规则、明制度、统一部署。在境外NGO的管理上,2013年十八届三中《关于全面深化改革若干重大问题的决定》明确指出“加强对社会组织和在华境外非政府组织的管理,引导它们依法开展活动。”2014年四中全会以法治为主题,更促动中国进入重要立法的活跃期。在社会组织领域,踌躇十年的慈善立法落地出台,境外NGO同时提上立法日程。2014年6月中外媒体报道了中国国安委部署对境外NGO摸底调查,2015年5月《境外非政府组织管理法(草案二审稿)》向社会公开征求意见,2016年4月28日更名为《境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》的法案经全国人大常委会通过颁发,已于今年1月1日正式施行。

《境外NGO法》的制定出台背景,一方面看到与国家安全不可分割的关切度。草案二审稿与《国家安全法》草案二审稿几乎同步公开征求意见。在《境外NGO法》通过的全国人大新闻发布会上,全国人大常委会法工委副主任张勇坦言“的确有极少数的境外非政府组织企图或者已经做过了危害中国社会稳定和国家安全的事情”,公安部境外非政府组织管理办公室负责人郝云宏也指出对境外NGO的积极作用持欢迎态度,但对“极少数境外非政府组织”从事“损害中国的国家安全、利益和其他违法犯罪的事情”要加强管理。在国家安全视角下对境外NGO加强管理并不是中国独有,越南、印度、俄罗斯、埃及等国都相继出台对境外资金、机构加强管理的法规政策。

另一方面看,加强国家安全并不一定需要立法为手段。从“三不”政策到明确立法,实际是中国十八大提出现代国家治理和法治建设进程的一个体现。可以认为,《境外NGO法》的制定出台,是国家安全的意图和法治的国家治理思路,二者结合的结果。该法的挑战和机遇亦由此源。

第一个月的实践

2016年的最后两个月时间里,《境外NGO法》经过公安部门和政府内部积极的筹备工作后,开始面向社会发布实施信息。11月8日、11月30日,公安部分别在上海、广州与部分国家领事馆和境外非政府组织召开通气会,11月28日公安部发布《境外非政府组织代表机构登记和临时活动备案办事指南》, 12月20日发布《境外非政府组织在中国境内活动领域和项目目录、业务主管单位名录(2017)》。至2017年1月1日《境外NGO法》正式施行之前,三个方面的筹备工作就位:其一,依法案规定所需的衔接准备中,境外非政府组织申请设立代表机构以及开展临时活动备案的程序、境外非政府组织活动领域和项目目录、业务主管单位名录,三个主要文件在国家层级全部出台;其二,由公安部牵头、有关业务主管部门参加的国家境外非政府组织监督管理工作协调机制已经成立;其三,公安部统一设立“境外非政府组织办事服务平台”网站开通,全国各省办事服务大厅地址和电话信息全部公布,受理窗口开始开放。

1月17日,上海市公安局境外非政府组织管理办公室举行“境外非政府组织驻沪代表机构登记证书颁发仪式”,全国首批6家境外非政府组织代表机构获得登记证书,分别是美国世界健康基金会、香港应善良基金会、美国美中贸易全国委员会、加拿大加中贸易理事会、俄罗斯联邦工商会和印度工业联合会。

1月19日,广东省首批6家境外非政府组织获准代表机构登记证书,其中广州代表处3家,分别是香港中华总商会、香港中华厂商联合会、台湾贸易中心,香港工业总会深圳代表处等2家,珠海1家。

1月23日,北京市批准登记境外非政府组织代表机构20家,全部是原有依据2004年《基金会管理条例》在民政部注册登记的境外基金会在华代表机构。原注册代表机构一共29家,目前,其中1家香港应善良基金会在上海设立代表处,1家美国世界健康基金会在上海和北京各设立一个代表处,19家在北京设立代表处、由民政部作为业务主管单位,尚未移交者余8家。公安部在年前的通气会上曾发布,正会同民政部、国家工商总局研究做好已在这两个部门登记的部分境外非政府组织代表机构的移交工作,目前的登记可以视为是首批移交的结果。

《境外NGO法》施行第一个月,上海、广东、北京三地首批境外非政府组织代表机构登记一共31家,其中最多的一类共21家是原民政部登记境外基金会代表机构的移交,其余10家全部为经济类工商业协会。国别上涵盖美、英、德、法、瑞士、加拿大、俄罗斯、印度等国家以及香港、台湾地区;业务领域涉及经济、卫生、扶贫、救助、教育、儿童、环保等。

首批登记的代表机构提示出三个信息:第一,延续性,首批在公安机关获得登记的基本是原有民政或工商部门有持久记录的机构,它体现了在法律制度变化中,政府系统内部对既存事实的承接,特别是对于工商部门登记的机构,并不是法律法规承认的非营利形式,而是在特定法环境下的一种现实做法,此次仍被考虑在了移交范畴,是在社会现实层面的衔接。第二,经济领域相对具有更大开放度,除依原有法规移交的境外基金会代表机构之外,新赋予法律合法性的均在经济活动领域,显示了经济活动的相对优先性,也是各省更容易自主判断决定的领域。第三,法律实施也是对法律条文调试的过程,公益属性是一个例子,《境外NGO法》第三条规定境外NGO开展有利于公益事业的活动,第十条登记要件要求组织章程规定的宗旨和业务范围有利于公益事业发展,一般而言,工商经济类协会不是公益类组织的典型,它们的率先登记,也考虑到法律实施中多种因素的调试。

回看各省公安厅对境外非政府组织登记管理的准备工作,仅就网上平台而言,截至1月底,在公安部“境外非政府组织办事服务平台”链接的全国31省、市、自治区及新疆生产建设兵团共32个办事服务大厅中,开通境外非政府组织管理办公室或办事服务平台网站、发布了省级业务主管单位名录的15家,其中,在业务主管单位信息方面,上海市和北京市在名录之上还公布了各业务主管单位的地址和网站,上海市并公布了市及各区税务局的地址和联系电话,在办事流程方面,广东、四川、河北三省另行发布了省级的办事指南,四川省并制定了登记和备案的两个操作手册称之为1.0版本,其他10家还有:天津、福建、湖北、湖南、江西、广西、陕西、甘肃、海南、安徽,其中除安徽外均有网上办事服务平台的链接。

设立了专门网站或网页,有网上办事服务平台链接,但未发布省级业务主管单位名录的有3个省,分别是吉林、浙江、西藏。另外14个省的网站链接则尚未开通,其中,山西、辽宁、黑龙江、江苏、河南、宁夏、新疆兵团7个省和地区,将链接指向了省公安厅主页,内蒙古、山东、重庆、贵州、云南、青海、新疆7个省直接显示“暂未开放”。

从网上办事服务平台看,境外非政府组织登记管理还呈现出一个特征,即高度的统一性。各省虽然设立独立的网站和信息发布平台,网上办事服务窗口实际统一链接到公安部境外非政府组织办事服务平台,全国是统一的平台、统一账号系统、统一网上填报,在预约面递材料时再从下拉菜单选择某省的办事服务大厅。

机遇与挑战

一个月法律实施时间过去,相比法案公布之时,逐渐由一些不确定性信息变得明晰起来。首先,是公安部门的服务姿态和政府对法案的重视程度。境外非政府组织管理办公室的服务窗口设置在出入境管理大厅,网上填报和预约是公安部统一的系统,登陆界面写着“欢迎来到中国(Welcome to China)”。与“双重管理”体制下中国社会组织的业务主管单位相比,很多境外非政府组织管理的业务主管单位已经安排了专人,甚至专门的办公室,对接该项职能。

第二,活动地域不局限于登记地。中国本土社会组织采取分级登记、分级管理原则,一般按照登记层级决定活动地域。境外非政府组织代表机构的登记全部在省厅,公安部只作统筹协调而不具体登记,这样就出现国家部委做业务主管单位、登记注册在省级的情况,目前已登记代表机构的活动地域跟从业务主管单位的范畴,可以登记在某一省,活动领域在多省市乃至全国。公安系统内部彼此协调跨省活动的监管。法律禁止分支机构的设立,意味一地登记、多地活动是可行的,与业务主管单位职权范围有关,并不可以用分支机构的方式实现。

第三,依流程准备材料的可行性与难点。在积极准备登记注册的组织中,已经有部分按照指南备齐材料,沟通过程发现,对于材料中很多具体内容的填写,组织自身理解和登记管理部门的理解可能仍然存在偏差,有时需要返工。其中比较耗费时力的是多份材料需要当地国家的公证、认证、中国使领馆的认证,而这个流程顺序与美国等国家的要求往往相反,比如在美国,中国使领馆的认证需要联邦材料,而美国联邦只对接州的材料,州认证的是个人签字,所以对于个人在中国使领馆的材料认证,就需要从个人先到联邦,再回到对个人的认证。

就目前准备登记注册组织的体验,最大的挑战仍然集中在业务主管单位。第一步是能否联系上,虽然公布了名录,找到具体的负责部门和联系人还是一个门槛;第二步是业务主管单位是否回复,如果对非政府组织的发函、联系,没有回复的时间期限,就可能一直拖延不明;第三步是业务主管单位对领域的判断和审核标准,因为不是法律要件性判断,具有很大的自由裁量权,如果并无动力或激励机制,很容易作出责任推诿;第四是多领域活动的业务主管单位协调问题,由于业务主管单位一一对应活动领域,分工细微、划分标准依据行政职权,对于大多数境外非政府组织而言,难以完全落在某个部门的职责范畴之内,这样一方面会出现业务主管单位相互推诿,另一方面,即便有某个部门愿意承担份内之责,从政府机构设置言,其是没有职权和意愿去协调其他各方政府部门业务的,从而可能造成业务主管单位及活动领域的确定困境。另外,对于此前在地县、社区活动,或没有法律注册形式的境外非政府组织,没有与省部级有资格的业务主管单位打交道的历史,完全陌生地去接触和寻求业务主管,具有更大的难度。

另一项比较集中的问题是活动地域选择。特别对于资助型基金会而言,项目和活动地域是根据每次获得批准的项目书决定的,机构无法事先预期。有些活动是一次研讨或调研,范围灵活,根据需求随时变化,未必能在申请登记时预知。如果每次作为活动地点变更,又每个需要业务主管单位的批准或者中方合作单位的报批,使得简单活动可能变成繁琐的程序。

暂少被提及的,是临时活动备案。虽然早有机构考虑到,如果一时不能获得登记注册代表机构,或者不必要登记注册代表机构,先以临时活动备案的形式获得合法性,但到目前为止,尚未看到临时活动备案的实例。临时活动获得批准的主体责任不在境外非政府组织,而在中方合作单位,即政府、事业单位、人民团体、登记注册的社会组织,对于它们向谁、如何申请和获批,法律没有做任何说明。法律的留白,使得临时活动的获准程序具有更大的不确定性,也是下一步值得观察的一个重要方面。

下一个关键

第一批境外非政府组织代表机构拿到登记证书,更主要的意义在于其后依法行为、依法规制的实践。仅就登记注册而言,移交是一种特例,行为主体更多依存于政府的主动性,还不足以检验法律流程的畅通。在接下来的几个月时间里,有两个关键指标值得关注:第一,哪些组织、在什么地区,自主经过完整的法律流程获得代表机构登记证书,或者以获批备案的形式获得活动合法性。其中,一些在中国有较长历史的境外非政府组织,通过政府间协议、地方政府平台、中方合作伙伴、工商注册、志愿者等形式,在中国社会已久,特别那些自改革开放早期受邀于中国政府进入中国,伴随了中国改革开放历程的境外非政府组织,它们的名字是否还继续存在,它们在中国的去留,不仅是公益事业的损益,也是中国改革开放步伐和与国际社会关系的象征。

第二,哪些组织和行为、在何种情况下,适用于法律责任的执法。按照《境外NGO法》规定的流程,从境外非政府组织拿到业务主管单位的同意文件,到登记管理机关作出批准与否的决定,有90天的时限。至少可以认为,在法律施行的前三个月时间里,普遍处于登记筹备阶段。法律意识严格的组织,已经暂停一切活动,但也有各种宽泛的交流、来访、跨年项目、雇员签证,甚至会员活动、线上募捐等,不可避免地涉及“是否违法活动”的问题。法律未对“活动”或“临时活动”作出界定,谁是受规制对象的边界也存在解释空间。法律实施后,一方面对于境外非政府组织,面临的行为选择,是否正式注册,或者不接触中国及清退中国会员,否则都会有一个法律边界的风险考量;另一方面,中国执法方的执法行为,实际也是一个释法过程,不断在实践中界定出法律定义的边界。

谁能够获得登记或备案?哪些组织和行为成为执法对象?在3-6个月的观望、尝试、磨合期过后,这两个问题将再次凸显出来,答案将影响大多数组织的决策选择。

法治:中国与世界的接口

《境外NGO法》实施一个月,已经有第一批组织登记注册,它是对政府姿态的彰显。法律实施3个月,将进入一个对法律流程检验的时间节点。在某种意义上说,今年年中或下半年,法律的社会效应将更明显看出。这也是对现阶段法律施行过程的压力和挑战。

非政府组织自身的运作规律,多样、灵活、跨界、随社会反应及时变动调整,《境外NGO法》依政府行政职权划分管理的特征与之存在内在张力。这一点由于法观念的差异可能有所强化。境外NGO大多有明确的法意识,理事会的决策也经过法务部门的严格衡量,如何使这部法律纳入“法治”的轨道,对其施行效果至为关键。例如,“活动”的含义给出明确限定,业务主管单位的法律职责要求,对跨领域活动增设综合业务主管单位,临时活动备案所需的中方合作伙伴审批手续和审批标准,会员组织的规定等,在明确性、一致性、流程可行的原则下,进行法律规制和法律责任的要求,力求避免“未否决”也“无批准”的无处“落地”状态。

“法治”,将是《境外NGO法》施行的关键词,它既决定了法律施行的效果,也是与国际接轨的中国法治道路的一块试金石。

 

Translated by Cameron Carlson and Gabriel Corsetti

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