Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Chinese state’s repression of Jasic workers and their supporters, and the international response

Today is International Human Rights Defenders Day, and tomorrow December 10 is International Human Rights Day, so it’s only appropriate that we use this opportunity to remember the Jasic workers and their supporters and explore ways to work for their release.

I was in the process of preparing a list of the 32 individuals associated with the Jasic case who have been in custody, detained and/or disappeared but then two days ago, Human Rights in China provided a valuable public service by issuing an urgent appeal on behalf of the Jasic workers and their supporters, along with a better, more up-to-date list.

The Jasic case will be remembered as an important event in the annals of Chinese labor history, less for what Jasic workers achieved on the factory floor and more for their success in mobilizing wider social attention to the workers movement and for the ferocious repression by Chinese authorities and police.

How the Jasic case got this big

The details of the Jasic Technology case are by now well known. Over the past two years, the factory had asked workers to step up production and changed the scheduling system to redefine leave and thereby reduce workers’ overtime pay. They also imposed a new disciplinary system to ensure workers fell in line. As early as July 2017, a handful of Jasic workers went to the local Labor Bureau to submit a complaint about management practices. Jasic management made some superficial changes but not enough to address the workers’ concerns.

In May and June of 2018, these Jasic worker activists took a different approach to improving labor relations in the factory. They found that Jasic did not have a enterprise union as required by law, and approached the local Pingshan district union to ask about setting up an union and holding democratic elections for union positions. Jasic management took steps in June to set up a union and hold elections but then manipulated the elections for union posts by assigning their preferred candidates to run. While the Pingshan union originally supported the worker activists, they did nothing when Jasic management hijacked the election process. In the end, none of the worker activists who had proposed setting up a union were elected. In July, these activists continued to solicit the support of other workers about the need for a democratically-elected enterprise union. Jasic management responded by firing six of the activists in mid-July.

The Crackdown

At this point, things got out of hand as the worker activists began to share information on social media about their problems at Jasic and failed efforts to establish a democratically-elected union.  Supporters from diverse groups – university students, former Jasic employees who had been fired or pressured to leave, workers from other factories, Maoists – began to show up at the factory gates calling for reinstatement of the fired worker activists.

The hardline police response that followed escalated the conflict. On July 20, the police seized 20 of the protestors and held them at the police station overnight. The protestors were released the next day and went back to the factory to continue the protests along with other supporters. On July 27, the police formally detained 29 of the protestors. This news brought attracted more supporters from different cities to support the workers and those who had been detained. On August 24, police seized about 50 more supporters, detaining some or placing them under residential surveillance, and interrogating others. Most of these people were later released.

On September 3, we heard news of the first formal criminal charges filed against those on this list. Four of the Jasic worker activists were charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order” which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years. On September 8, Fu Changguo, a staff member at the labor NGO, Dagongzhe Center, was formally arrested under the same charge. No other criminal charges have been filed against any of the others.

From this chronology of events, we can see that if Jasic management had made a good faith effort back in June to set up a democratically-elected union and started negotiations with workers to address their concerns, this case would not have escalated to this level.

Jasic as a labor rights and human rights case

Jasic now stands as the biggest case of police repression against workers and their supporters since the central government’s crackdown on labor groups in Guangzhou on December 3, 2015. The Jasic case is already turning out to be larger in scope than the 2015 crackdown which resulted in the formal detention and trial of three labor NGO staff for “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”  The police have already formally arrested four Jasic workers and one labor NGO staff on the same criminal charge, and seized at least 27 others, mostly university students and NGO staff.  Some of these have been disappeared, others have been detained and still others placed in residential surveillance. News about the workers and their supporters is being continually updated online by the Jasic Workers Support Group.

The police have also taken a harder line against suspects in this case than in the 2015 crackdown. This may be in part because of the participation of university graduates from top universities in Beijing and Nanjing, which raises the specter of a worker-student coalition, but also because police seem to be taking a harsher line against collective protests. Multiple violations of procedural safeguards for suspects and detainees have been reported by the friends and family of the detained, many of whom have not been able to see a lawyer. Lawyers need authorization from family members to take on a case, and according to the reports of HRIC and other informants, police are putting pressure on family members not to give authorization and on lawyers not to take on Jasic cases. 

Like the 2015 case, Jasic has become both a labor rights case and a broader human rights case, highlighting violations of the right of workers to freely organize and form a union, as well as citizens’ rights to freedom of assembly and due process under the law.

How the international community can help

The international community has an important role to play in mitigating the effect of the repression against Jasic workers and their supporters. Fortunately, many organizations and individuals have already begun to raise their voices in protest. Foreign media have covered the repression as it has grown in scope, notifying the international community of new developments. International human rights groups have publicized urgent appeals to foreign governments and the broader international community calling for the release of the workers and their supporters. Foreign scholars have called their universities to stop exchanges with Chinese universities and academic conferences.

More can still be done. International human rights and labor unions organizations can bring the Jasic case up at the UN and ILO which have mechanisms and special procedures for reporting violations of international labor and human rights principles. Foreign diplomats can make their governments aware of the human rights violations in this case and raise them at meetings with their Chinese government counterparts. At a more personal level, foreign diplomats can, whenever possible, visit affected family members to show support and send a message to the Chinese police that the family members will not be intimidated.

Foreigners naturally wonder whether their actions would be helpful or backfire and make things worse for the people they are trying to help. Many Chinese activists are now making it clear that intervention on the part of the international community is helpful. They note that the Chinese government is sensitive about its international image and cite a number of cases where international attention has ameliorated the treatment of Chinese activists, their families and lawyers.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

My latest initiative: starting up Social Innovations Advisory to strengthen civil society in China and Asia

In March, I wrote a blogpost about my move in February of this year from Hong Kong where I had a great gig as the Deputy Director of Development and Operations at China Labour Bulletin. Since then, I keep meeting people who ask me where I am and what I’m doing with my time, so I thought I’d send an update.

I’m now living in Guangzhou remaking myself as a consultant for international NGOs operating in the greater China and Asia-Pacific region. I’ve registered my own consulting company, Social Innovations Advisory, Ltd, in Hong Kong to help NGOs interested in doing innovative and impactful programming and reporting in the region. While I spend most of my time in Guangzhou, I make regular trips to Hong Kong and neighboring countries for meetings and other business.

Below are some of the consulting projects I’ve taken on this year:

1.     Researching and writing the China Philanthropy Law Report for the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), and regularly updating ICNL’s China page for the Civic Freedom Monitor.

2.    Developing short info graphs, timelines and FAQs to explain the civil society and philanthropy environment and laws in China for ICNL.

3.    Regularly updating the Council on Foundation’s Country Note for China.

4.    Contributing an assessment of China’s legal environment for civil society for a policy brief on global civil society written by Professor Helmut Anheier of Germany’s Hertie School of Governance in preparation for the G-20/T-20 in Argentina.

5.    Writing an article, “Remaking Chinese Civil Society in the Xi Jinping Era” for ChinaFile.

6.    Participating in a two-week fact-finding mission to interview human rights NGOs in Palestine and Israel about restrictions on access to funding, and drafting a 20-page advocacy report, for the International Federation for Human Rights (Fidh).

7.     Writing a thought piece on strategies for expanding the space for civil society in the Asia-Pacific for Innovation for Change-East Asia’s retreat for civil society leaders and intellectuals.

8.    Carrying out a survey of active labor organizations in China for an international NGO and writing a report with recommendations on how foreign companies can engage with and support those organizations.

9.    Organizing a forum for an international NGO to discuss and come up with recommendations on changing their strategy in China/Asia.

10. Conducting and writing an evaluation of a civil society project in China for a U.S. funder.

11.  Helping NGOs to conceptualize and draft concept notes and full proposals for large European Union and U.S. government grants.

Stay in touch and let me know how I can contribute to the global effort to strengthen civil society, labor and philanthropy. I can be reached by email at or, by Skype using my Skype ID profshawn, or by phone or WhatsApp through my China number +86 18565377724.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

How Xi Jinping is remaking China's civil society

This was the original title of my recent article in ChinaFile. I had asked the editor to change it to "Remaking China's Civil Society in the Xi Jinping Era" because I thought it was more accurate. After all, Xi Jinping is not remaking China's civil society single-handedly. There were many others who could take credit. And one could argue, as Renmin University professor Kang Xiaoguang did in his recent article, that the remaking of civil society began under Hu Jintao who was the first General Secretary to recognize social organizations for the first time in his speeches on "social management" around 2010.  At the time, social organizations felt that this was a recognition of their contributions to society, and a sign that the Communist Party was further opening up to them. But Kang implies that the party leadership was instead setting civil society a trap; in recognizing the contributions of social organizations, they were actually saying that they had come up with a blueprint for controlling them.  That blueprint was for them to operate under the leadership of the party and supervision of the government. Social organizations were to get more support from the government in terms of registration and funding. But in return they would have to give up their autonomy and independence. Social organizations could only provide services, they could not engage in advocacy and claim to represent their constituents. Only the Communist Party and its subordinate government agencies could do that.

Following this logic, Hu Jintao set out the blueprint and Xi Jinping then made that blueprint a reality by cracking down on rights activism and advocacy NGOs, pushing through a series of laws and regulations, such as the Charity Law and Overseas NGO Law, calling for social organizations to set up party groups and providing more funding and support for social organizations that engaged in service provision.

So while it is true that Xi Jinping was not single-handedly responsible for remaking China's civil society, he was the one that made the reconstruction of civil society a reality. He did not do it alone and had plenty of help from the millions of civil servants who worked under him. But he was the one to take the blueprint and make it come alive.

Now after traveling around China and surveying the damage, seeing the social organizations engaging in advocacy and rights protection that are no longer active, and the many social organizations that now get government funding to provide community services, I see that I may have gotten my title wrong after all. Maybe it should be "How Xi Jinping is Remaking China's Civil Society." 

Monday, August 27, 2018

The Draft Regulation for Registration and Management of Social Organizations

On the first week of this month, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) issued an important draft regulation governing the registration and management of social organizations (the official Chinese term for nonprofits) for public comment. The draft Regulation for Registration and Management of Social Organizations, and instructions for sending in comments, can be accessed using the links below. The deadline for sending in comments in September 1.

ChinaLawTranslate has an English-language translation of the regulation here.

At this writing, the word is that the MCA has received only around 100 comments, so if you know any Chinese NGOs, encourage them to submit their comments in the next few days.

Some Background

This draft regulation will replace the three previous regulations that formed the core of the regulatory system for social organizations: the "Regulations for the Registration and Management of Social Groups" issued on October 25, 1998; the "Provisional Regulations on the Registration and Management of Civil Non-enterprise Units" issued on October 25, 1998; and the "Foundation Management Regulations" issued on March 8, 2004. Note: The draft regulation has replaced the term "civil, non-enterprise units" with the much improved "social service organizations".

Given the rapid changes in the NGO sector in China, including the passage of the Charity Law in 2016, these regulations were seen by many observers as outdated and in serious need of revision. In the last half of 2016, we finally saw drafts of revisions to all three regulations issued for public comment, but then silence for two years before this draft regulation appeared this month.

Given the very short time frame allowed for public comments, the draft regulation has already stimulated quite a bit of discussion in the sector, including calls to slow down the drafting process to ensure that different views are heard.

For those interested, NGOCN has two posts here with feedback on the draft regulation:

CDB has also collated a number of posts about the draft regulation here in Chinese,

There have also been some forums organized about the draft regulation. Here's a Weixin post that has been getting quite a bit of attention citing the views of Yang Tuan, a long-time and respected observer of the sector, and other analysts and observers of the sector.

Some Impressions and Comments

I've only had the chance to skim through the regulation, and the various discussions, but here are some quick impressions and comments based on what I've been reading.

First of all, I'm surprised they came out so quickly. I was on record that I didn't think we'd see a draft this year, so now I'm going to eat my words. I’m also surprised that MCA is only allowing about four weeks for public comment given the importance of the draft regulation.

Second, the draft regulation is going in the right direction in terms of creating a more enabling environment for NGOs, but the details of the regulation are fraught with a number of problems, including inconsistencies with the Charity Law. Below are some problems that have been raised:

The draft allows direct registration (e.g. registering with Civil Affairs without needing a PSU) for four categories of social organizations: 1) chambers of commerce and trade associations; 2) science and technology groups; 3) charitable, public welfare organizations; and 4) rural and urban community organizations. One complaint is that the definition of the third category- charitable, public welfare organizations – is overly narrow, even more so than the definition of charity and public welfare spelled out in the Charity Law, and that the definition should be broadened.

Another problem is Article 4 which prohibits social organizations from engaging in “for-profit business activities. This seems to be overly restrictive and not in line with the Charity Law which has a more expansive view of the activities social organizations can engage in. Article 9 of the Charity Law states that charitable organizations may not have a “profit-making purpose,” which implies that profit-making activities would be acceptable as long as they support a charitable purpose.

In another improvement, the draft regulation allows social organizations to set up branches, but not “regional branches” so apparently branches can only be set up in the administrative area in which that social organization is registered, but this is not clearly stated.

The draft regulation makes it more difficult for smaller foundations to register. The minimum registered capital for foundations of 8 million RMB was raised above the 2 million RMB amount required in the previous regulations, and the 2016 draft regulations. Also the 2016 draft regulations allowed foundations to register below the provincial level, a move that would have helped smaller, community foundations. This draft regulation now states that foundations can only register at or above the provincial level.

There is quite a bit of language in the draft regulation about the need for social organizations to establish Communist Party organizations, and carry out Party activities. Social organizations are required to prepare the conditions, and provide a workplan, for setting up party organizations. None of this language requiring Party organizations was in the Charity Law or in the previous regulations.

The draft regulation also spells out very specific, and onerous, penalties for social organizations that violate their legal responsibilities, and allows law enforcement wide discretion in investigating violations. Language clarifying limits on law enforcement investigative powers should be included to protect the legal rights of social organizations and their staff.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Free Special Issue on NGOs in China in the Xi Jinping Era

 The Nonprofit Policy Forum just issued a very nice special issue on recent developments in the NGO space in the Xi Jinping era (disclaimer: I contributed). The articles published in this issue are meant to be accessible and topical, and are relatively short for academic pieces. Below is a list of the articles with authors and abstracts. They can be downloaded free of charge on Nonprofit Policy Forum’s website.

Nonprofit Policy Forum, Volume 9, Issue 1 (May 2018)
Special Issue on Nonprofit Policymaking in China, Guest Editors: Xiaoguang Kang and Qun Wang

1) Introductory Essay: China’s Nonprofit Policymaking in the New Millennium

Qun Wang, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Bloomington, USA, E-mail:

Xiaoguang Kang, China Institute for Philanthropy and Social Innovation, Renmin University of China, Beijing, China, E-mail:

2) Social Autonomy and Political Integration: Two Policy Approaches to the Government-Nonprofit Relationship since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China

Jinjun Wang, Party School of Zhejiang Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, E-mail:

Qun Wang, Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, Bloomington, Indiana 47405, USA, E-mail:

Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the party-state has established a number of policies on social organizations. Some policies are complementary, whereas some seem to be contradictory. These policies are associated with two policy approaches. The first is socially oriented, allowing social organizations the opportunity for autonomy and encouraging capacity-building. The second is political integration mainly through party-building in social organizations. The two approaches do not exist alone or in isolation. Intertwined they indicate that the Chinese party-state has begun to institutionalize an integrative control mechanism to maximize the utility of social organizations in prioritized fields of work.

3) Government Service Purchasing from Social Organizations in China: An Overview of the Development of a Powerful Trend

Weinan Wang, The School of Social Development and Public Policy, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China, E-mail:

Holly Snape, Peking University, School of Government, Research Center for Chinese Politics, Beijing, China, E-mail:

In this work, we draw on available data to develop a comprehensive picture of the process through which “government service purchasing” has developed in China thus far. We argue that to understand the challenges that have begun to emerge in practice, it is important to look back and understand how government service purchasing has developed to date. Our hope is that by providing an overview of this development process, we can facilitate further research on what we believe is a phenomenon that will have deep implications for the relationships between Party, state, society, and market over the next decades in China.

4) The Chinese State and Overseas NGOs: From Regulatory Ambiguity to the Overseas NGO Law

Shawn Shieh, Chinese University of Hong Kong, University Services Centre for China Studies, Hong Kong, China, E-mail:

This article discusses the significance of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Administration of Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations in the Mainland of China (hereafter the ONGO Law) for the Chinese state’s regulation of overseas NGOs in the reform period. We show how the ONGO Law represents a dramatic shift in the regulation of ONGOs from a situation of regulatory ambiguity to one where ONGOs now come under a comprehensive law that seeks to regulate all their activities in mainland China. In doing so, the Law has created a dramatic shift in the legitimacy of ONGOs in China. Before the Law was enacted, ONGOs operated in a legal grey area where their work was opaque, received little recognition, and enjoyed limited legitimacy in the eyes of the government and public. The Law will change all of that, making the work of ONGOs more visible and transparent, and providing a formal channel for dealing with the government. At the same time, in putting the implementation and enforcement of the Law in the hands of the Ministry of Public Security (MPS), and creating a legal framework that is restrictive rather than enabling, the Chinese state has sent a very different and contradictory message to ONGOs who see themselves being viewed more as objects of suspicion than as legitimate stakeholders in China’s development.

5) Advocacy under Xi: NPO Strategies to Influence Policy Change

Jessica Teets, Department of Political Science, Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT 05753-6203, USA, E-mail:

Oscar Almen, Department of Government, Uppsala University, Uppsala 75120, Sweden, E-mail:

Under the Hu-Wen administration, scholars analyzed how political opportunity structures (POS) affect the policy influence of NPOs in China, and found that the opportunity structure was relatively more open, especially for NPOs using personal connections. In this article, we focus on changes in the opportunity structure since Xi Jinping came to power after 2012, and find that the more closed political climate has had important consequences for NPO policy advocacy. We identify three strategies that NPOs have used to advocate, such as using the law, media framing, and establishing expert status. While these strategies are not novel, we argue that the weighting has shifted in terms of what leads to success.

6) Chinese NGOs are “Going Out”: History, Scale,Characteristics, Outcomes, And Barriers

Xiaoyun Li and Qiang Dong, College of Humanities and Development Studies, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China, E-mail:

From a historical perspective, China has become a focus of attention in contemporary globalization, and the expansion of Chinese NGOs’ participation overseas has been an important part of its globalization process. On the one hand, this “going out” phenomenon implies a spontaneous, internal cultural power within the Chinese society driven by a strong economy, which is a modern form of ideological promotion caused by capital expansion. On the other hand, this process has also been propelled by utilitarian factors. Nevertheless, despite a decade of development, the “going out” of Chinese NGOs is still in its infancy. Moreover, Chinese NGOs that are going global face various challenges in terms of laws and policies, public awareness and fundraising, transnational operations, and professional talent. To propose new concepts of global development, Chinese NGOs will have to strengthen themselves.

7) Moving Toward Neo-Totalitarianism: A Political-Sociological Analysis of the Evolution of Administrative Absorption of Society in China

Xiaoguang Kang, China Institute for Philanthropy and Social Innovation, Renmin University of China, Beijing 100872, China, E-mail:

China recently promulgated and revised a number of laws, regulations and measures to regulate the nonprofit sector. All these administrative efforts increase support for Chinese nonprofit organizations (NPOs) on the one hand and put unprecedented pressure on them on the other. The seemingly contradictory effects are actually based on the same logic of Administrative Absorption of Society (AAS). This article proposes three phases in the development of AAS: an subconscious phase, a theory-modeling phase, and an institutionalization phase. The institutionalization of AAS has led to the rise of neo-totalitarianism, which is featured by state capitalism, unlimited government, and a mixed ideology of Marxism and Confucianism. Neo-totalitarianism further
strengthens AAS and has begun to reshape the relationship between the state and the nonprofit sector. This article analyzes China’s nonprofit policymaking from a sociopolitical perspective, and clarifies the context, the characteristics, and the evolution of laws and policies in the nonprofit sector in macrocosm.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

In Remembrance of Memory

 On the 29th anniversary of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, I thought I would post some of my favorite excerpts from the essays of Liu Xiaobo[i], a participant in the 1989 movement and the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner who died in a Chinese prison on July 13, 2017. Written more than 10 years ago, these excerpts continue to resonate for me in this age of Xi Jinping.

“The Communist Party of China’s Dictatorial Patriotism” (2005)

In this age of strongman politics, in which Xi Jinping has demanded absolute loyalty to the party, Liu reminds us that we should have no illusion about the nature of one-party rule.

In short, a government can only be qualified to represent the interests of the people, which, when combined, constitute national interests, if it respects and loves the people, and, in particular, if it respects and protects the rights of the people to question, criticize, and even oppose government policies by peaceful means. Only then can it be called a patriotic government and only then is it qualified to promote patriotism.

 However, the patriotism of a dictatorial regime is exactly the opposite: it promotes patriotism with high-flying talk but never respects or cares for the mainstay of the nation—the people. 

First, its power is not conferred by the people but comes from and is sustained by violence. It transforms public power, which is supposed to serve the public good of society, into private power of the regime and the powerful, into a tool for implementing the will of the regime and obtaining profits for the powerful.

The current CPC may be the world’s largest political party, but compared to the 1.3 billion people in China, its 60 some million members are no more than a small minority, so how can it so shamelessly boast that it “represents the people and the nation”? The reason the CPC regards itself to be the natural representative of “the country, the nation, and the people” is not at all because it truly has “the mandate of Heaven to carry out justice,” but because it wants to maintain its dictatorial power and protect its vested interests.

“Changing the Regime by Changing Society” (2006)

This is my favorite essay of Liu Xiaobo’s, full of optimism and faith in the power and agency of society, and with wise words about how change will come to China.

In an un-free society ruled by a dictatorship, under the premise of the temporary absence of power that can change the dictatorial nature of the regime, the civic ways that promote the transformation of Chinese society from the bottom up that I know of are as follows:

3. Regardless of how great the freedom-denying power of a regime and its institutions is, every individual should still fight to the best of his/her ability to live as a free person, that is, make every effort to live an honest life with dignity. In any society ruled by dictatorship, when those who pursue freedom publicly disclose their views and practice what they preach, as long as they manage to be fearless in the small details of everyday life, what they say and do in everyday life will become the fundamental force that will topple the system of enslavement.

5. Whether an insider or an outsider of the system, whether working from the top down or the bottom up, each should respect the other’s right to speak. Even the statements and actions of people attached to the government, as long as they do not force constraints on the independent discourse among the people and the rights defense movement, should be regarded as a useful exploration of transformational strategies and their right of speech should be fully respected. Those who advocate transformation from the top down should maintain adequate respect for the explorations of those working from the bottom-up among the people.

6. Institutional common sense on how to confront rather than evade an ever-present dictatorial power: place into one’s own hands the initiative for improving the status of the population without rights, rather than pinning hope on the arrival of some enlightened master or benevolent ruler. In the strategic maneuvering between civil society and the government, regardless of how official policies may change, the most important thing is to encourage and assist the civil rights defense movement and hold fast the independent position of civil society.

In sum, China’s course toward a free society will mainly rely on bottom-up gradual improvement and not the top-down “Chiang Ching-kuo style” revolution. Bottom-up reform requires self-consciousness among the people, and self-initiated, persistent, and continuously expanding civil disobedience movements or rights defense movements among the people. In other words, pursue the free and democratic forces among the people; do not pursue the rebuilding of society through radical regime change, but instead use gradual social change to compel regime change. That is, rely on the continuously growing civil society to reform a regime that lacks legitimacy.

“The Many Aspects of Chinese Communist Party Dictatorship” (2006)

Here Liu delves further into the nature of a one-party regime, which is increasingly propped up by coercion and economic enticements than through any ideological belief in communism, and questions its lasting power.

The CCP regime suppresses dissident political forces in a variety of ways: shadowing, wiretapping and imprisonment, as well as bribery and coercion; evil laws and low schemes, as well as gray space; regime dictatorship, as well as thug violence; open criticism and, secret purges; ironfisted methods, as well as appeals to human emotion (the police officers in charge of keeping watch on dissidents invariably start up their conversations in a “getting-acquainted” tone), to the extent that even when reining in those intractable rebels, the police leave themselves some leeway in that they no longer claim to be motivated by high-sounding ideological reasons, but rather deploy the “rice-bowl theory” that they are simply trying to keep their jobs.

However, the very use of such pragmatic, flexible control methods, because of their thoroughly opportunistic nature, paints the doomsday picture of dictatorial politics—countless flaws in the system itself, questions of the regime’s legitimacy, and rapid erosion of its effectiveness—where the ruler and the ruled engage in expedient cooperation based on the principle of profit-before-everything.

“The Negative Effects of the Rise of Dictatorship on Democratization in the World” (2006)

In this essay, Liu foreshadows the growing concern about the effect that China’s rise has had in shaping global norms and standards concerning development, governance, democracy and human rights.

The CPC regime has replaced the former Soviet Union to become a blood transfusion machine for other dictatorships. It provides large quantities of economic assistance to dictatorships such as North Korea, Cuba, and Myanmar, offsetting to some degree the impact of Western economic sanctions and enabling these remaining despotic regimes on their last legs to linger on.

The CPC regime uses China’s huge market to lure and coerce big capital from the West, and the very nature of capital is to chase profit with no regard for universal values or fair trade. So the big capital from various Western nations inevitably tries to exert influence on its home country’s China policy…..To make a profit, these companies have gone as far as to recklessly betray universal values and the American government’s human rights foreign policy. Without exception, they have all bowed to political pressure and coercion from the CPC regime and have become its accomplices in restricting the freedom of expression and in its literary inquisition.

[i] English-language translations of these essays are available on Human Rights in China (HRIC)’s website.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

CDB and CLB: Claiming the Space for An Independent, Progressive Civil Society in China

Sometimes you need to leave home to appreciate the family you left behind. I had that epiphany recently. Having worked for China Development Brief and China Labour Bulletin, two civil society organizations that developed a reputation for independent and authoritative monitoring and analysis about civil society and labor in China, I confess to taking their importance for granted. Then, when I was invited recently on a fact-finding mission to Israel and Palestine to meet with NGOs working on human rights and humanitarian issues, it suddenly became clear to me.

The purpose of our mission was to investigate restrictions on NGOs’ access to funding, a critical component of their freedom of association rights. These NGOs play an important role in monitoring, documenting and seeking to ameliorate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Israel and Palestine. Over the last few years, like their counterparts in many other countries, they began encountering greater pushback by the Israeli government, including on issues such as funding. In 2016, an NGO Transparency Law was passed in the Knesset requiring Israeli NGOs that received more than 50% of their funding from foreign governments, to declare their foreign government funding sources on their publications and websites, and in meetings with government officials. This law had the clever but sinister effect of singling out Israeli human rights NGOs that rely heavily on foreign government funding, while leaving untouched nationalist, right-wing NGOs that also rely on foreign funding but from private donors.

In our meetings with these NGOs about the pushback against their funding sources, one name came up again and again: an Israeli civil society organization called NGO Monitor.  On the surface, NGO Monitor comes across as the kind of organization that China Development Brief was meant to be, an authoritative one-stop shop for foreigners interested in NGOs in that country. Its objective, as stated on its website, is “producing and distributing critical analysis and reports on the activities of the international and local NGO networks, for the benefit of government policy makers, journalists, philanthropic organizations and the general public.”

On closer inspection, though, much of its content takes a very critical and even hostile view of more progressive, left-wing NGOs that monitor and call attention to human rights violations against Palestinians. One common line of attack is to point out the reliance of these NGOs on foreign government funding, particularly funding from European governments. Labeling these NGOs as “foreign agents,” NGO Monitor along with other nationalist, right-wing NGOs, with support from powerful politicians and officials, have over the last decade launched media and lobbying campaigns to delegitimize the work of human rights NGOs in Israel and Palestine. Their campaigns have worked. They led Israeli legislators to draft the 2016 NGO Transparency Law, and pressured European governments to review their funding commitments to human rights NGOs in Israel and Palestine.

The case of NGO Monitor shows how important it is for independent, credible, progressive NGOs to claim and defend the epistemological space and language for talking about NGOs in any country. It is clear that NGO Monitor now occupies a vital space for civil society in Israel. It has become an almost indispensable resource for those who want to better understand the NGO space in Israel. Like CDB’s NGO database, it has a large database of local and international NGOs working in Israel and Palestine. In fact, it seems to have the only such database in the English language. When you type in an Israeli NGO’s name, the first search result to come up is from NGO Monitor’s database which presents profiles of that NGO’s funding sources and activities written from the perspective of NGO Monitor.

The problem of course is that NGO Monitor has a highly partisan agenda, one that is intent on dividing civil society, and aligned with nationalist, right-wing NGOs and the current Netanyahu government.  What it and other right-wing groups in Israel are doing is eerily familiar to the ideological warfare taking place in President Trump’s America, and raises deeper concerns about their role in undermining Israeli democracy. As Professor Amal Jamal notes in his report, The Rise of Bad Civil Society in Israel, “bad civil society” organizations like NGO Monitor, make “use of democratic procedures to silence and delegitimize any critiques of government policies, especially those voiced by [human rights organizations]…. “The cooperation of ‘bad civil society’ with…government ministries and central political parties feeds the public sphere with anti-democratic values and norms, which undermines civil and democratic ideals and liberal freedoms and brings the entire democratic system into question.”

At CDB and CLB, we spent hours discussing and debating our positioning in Chinese civil society, knowing we were one of the few go-to sources on civil society and labor for the international community. We emphasized our independence from the government, and our support for grassroots NGOs, workers and the progressive values they stood for. But in the process of defending them, we ensured that our reporting and analysis remained credible and impartial, and tried our best to use accurate information, adopt a neutral tone, and avoid attacking other civil society organizations.

Of course, any reporting in China has to tread carefully in a restricted and censored space where there is less room for different ideological positions. In a democratic and open society like Israel’s, the space is more wide open for organizations to voice more critical and extreme views. That makes NGO Monitor’s occupation of the English-language space there that much more astonishing. Now, recognizing that they waited too long to respond, human rights organizations in Israel and Palestine are considering ways to fight back and reclaim some of that space by setting up a more independent, impartial alternative to NGO Monitor.

Here’s where I had my epiphany. After seeing what happened in Israel, the significance of CDB and CLB became clear to me. These two NGOs occupied the civil society space in the early days back in the mid-1990s, when there wasn’t much of a civil society in China, and they spent the last 20 years or so defending that space with integrity on behalf of an independent, progressive civil society. In doing so, they helped to build the linguistic and epistemological infrastructure for understanding and talking about civil society in China.

The Chinese government is now seeking to reclaim some of that space with more assertive legislation and initiatives and, at some point in the future, as China’s society opens up and discussion and debate become more ideological and contentious, other groups on both the right and left will enter the fray. But I’m confident that Chinese civil society is in a good position to deal with these challenges, in part because of the contributions made by CDB and CLB.