Charity law in China

The following was originally published on the Latest from Alliance blog on 13 March 2015. The original article can be found here. For more information about Alliance magazine, please visit www.alliancemagazine.org.

By Karla Simon

Premier Li Keqiang, in the annual Government Work Report to the National People’s Congress, specifically mentioned that the government plans to promote charities in 2015. This is consistent with other developments that have been occurring with regard to the regulation of charities. In December 2014, academics from Tsinghua and Peking universities called upon lawmakers to give legal status to overseas charity organizations operating in China in a recommendation for enacting a charity law. Led by Wang Ming at Tsinghua, academics have laid out rules clarifying registration procedures for foreign NGOs and their legal status, rights and liabilities in China in the proposed charity law.

But this is a controversial issue. Charity projects backed by foreign donors have been under particularly close watch by authorities over concerns that the organizations support interests hostile to the government. In November, however, Bureau of Civil Affairs regulators in Guangzhou were forced to revise a controversial clause in a city-level NGO regulation because of public outcry. Under the regulation, charity organizations operating in the southern city would have had their licences revoked if they were found to be predominately funded from overseas, or if they were in fact overseen by foreign institutions. This section of the proposed regulation was revoked, (see also http://chinadevelopmentbrief.cn/news/launching-activities-ngo-without-registered-civil-affairs-make-illegal-social-organization/).

While Chinese public security officials are wary of foreign charities, as we noted in my last blog (with Dejian Li), the academics point out that foreign charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation give great assistance in certain funding areas in China, such as health care. Indeed, the Asia Foundation, which is funded in part by the United States government, has contributed a great deal to the work on the charity law itself.

With respect to domestic charities, the government continues to push the law, currently in discussion at the National People’s Congress. At last year’s meetings, Zhou Sen, the National People’s Congress (NPC) deputy for Henan province, asked for it to be made compulsory for citizens to donate part of their earnings to charity, ‘much like they must pay tax’.

Current comments from academic researchers Li Yinglu at China Philanthropy Research Institute (CPRI) and Yang Tuan at China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) suggest that the government is currently working very hard to develop a sound law and bring it before the full NPC at a session in the summer or autumn. ICCSL is in touch with them and may be sending a representative to China in April to work on proposals for the charity law. There are still differences between the government draft and the CPRI draft, and that need to be worked out.

Other developments include efforts to speed up audits for charities, which passed in 2012 (see http://www.chinadevelopmentbrief.org.cn/news-4693.html (Chinese), and recent announcements by the Ministries of Civil Affairs and Finance with regard to audit requirements for all social organizations. (http://www.chinanpo.gov.cn (Chinese)

Karla W Simon (西 门 雅) is chairperson of ICCSL.

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