Monday, October 17, 2016

Draft Guidelines for the Overseas NGO Law Announced at Shanghai Forum

Last Friday, October 14, the Ministry of Public Security and the Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau held a forum in Shanghai for overseas NGOs to announce the draft “Guidelines for the Registration and Temporary Activities of Representative Offices of Overseas Non-governmental Organizations within the Territory of China (for comment)."

The draft Guidelines are meant to provide more detailed information on the Management Act on Activities of Overseas Non-governmental Organizations within the Territory of the People’s Republic of China[1] (hereafter the Overseas NGO Law) which goes into effect January 1, 2017. The Guidelines are divided into four sections: 1) the procedures and documents required for registering a representative office; 2) the procedures and documents required for filing a record for temporary activities; 3) additional issues; and 4) the required forms.

According to news sources[2], the head of the Overseas NGO Management Office, Hao Yunhong, presented the Guidelines and nine overseas NGOs were invited to present their comments on the draft. (It was not made clear if the draft would be limited to comments from only a small number of overseas NGOs or if there would be a more extensive public comment period.) Mr. Hao noted that the provincial Public Security Bureaus were responsible for registration of representative offices and filing records for temporary activities. The Ministry of Public Security in Beijing would not be directly involved in registration and filing records, but instead would be responsible for providing guidance and coordination for the provincial bureaus. The Shanghai Municipal Public Security Bureau’s Entry/Exit Administration has already set up booths, signs and equipment to receive overseas NGOs, and other provinces and cities are said to be in the process of preparing their own service stations.

Mr. Hao also revealed that the Overseas NGO management service information system and websites were being constructed. Once completed, these online platforms can be used by overseas NGOs to make reservations for registration or filing of records, online application and submission of relevant materials, and the posting of relevant documents. In addition, the Ministry of Public Security and relevant departments have set up a coordinating mechanism for supervision and management of ONGOs, and will be responsible for studying, coordinating and resolving major problems in facilitating the supervision, administration and services to overseas NGOs carrying out activities in mainland China.

Below are a few of my takeaways from reading over the draft Guidelines:

1) There's not that much in the way of additional details in these Guidelines, but mostly a repackaging of what has already been stated in the Overseas NGO Law to make the procedures easier to understand.

2) The “registration and management” department for overseas NGOs seeking to either register a representative office, or “file a record” for temporary activities, is to be the provincial Public Security Bureau where the rep office or activities (or more specifically the Chinese partners coordinating on these activities) are located. This led several overseas NGOs at the Shanghai forum to raise the question of what they should do if they have offices and/or activities in several provinces. Do they need to register in every one of those provinces? It seems one possible solution would be to allow overseas NGOs with offices or activities in multiple provinces to register or file a record at the national-level Ministry of Public Security. But Mr. Hao already made it clear that the Ministry of Public Security would not be directly involved in registration or filing records.

3) The Guidelines use the term “business administration department” (or BAD  - who says the Chinese public security don’t have a sense of humor?) to refer to what I have called the all-important “professional supervisory unit” (PSU).  Overseas NGOs seeking to register a representative office are required to have the approval of a BAD, generally a government or quasi-government agency, before they can even begin to register. In the past, it has been very difficult for overseas NGOs to get the approval of a BAD. The Ministry of Public Security has stated it will release a list of eligible BADs, but it is unclear whether the BADs on this list will be obligated to offer their services to an overseas NGO that approaches them.

4) In the section on Overseas NGOs filing a record for temporary activities, the Guidelines state: “In the case of Overseas NGO temporary activities, the Chinese partners shall apply for review and approval according to state regulations and file the required documents 15 days prior to the temporary activity at the provincial Public Security Bureau’s Administrative Office of Overseas NGO Affairs.” But like the Overseas NGO Law, these Guidelines remain vague on just what kind of approvals and documents need to be obtained and filed by the Chinese partner.

[1] This is the name of the Overseas NGO Law given in the English-language version of the draft Guidelines that were sent to me. It’s not clear why the translators chose to use Act instead of Law which is the more standard translation.

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