Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Follow up on the Overseas NGO Law - the list of Professional Supervisory Units has been issued

The Overseas NGO Law passed in April stated that a directory of Professional Supervisory Units (PSUs, 业务主管单位) would be made public. These PSUs (or in the official English-language translation of the Law "organizations in charge of operations") are important for those overseas NGOs that wish to register a representative office, but are not necessary for NGOs that only wish to carry out "temporary activities." In order to register a representative office, the NGO first needs to get the approval of a PSU that is willing to supervise its operations in China.

On December 20, almost eight months after the law was passed, the Ministry of Public Security  released the official directory of PSUs. The Chinese original is available on the Ministry of Public Security's website:

So far, no official English-language translation of the directory or the Guidelines has appeared.

It is interesting looking at the list of PSUs and the list of major fields/projects, how many areas are on the list. The major categories are Economics and Trade, Education, Science and Technology, Culture, Health, Sports, Environmental Protection, Emergency Assistance and Disaster Relief, and Other. Each of these categories has subcategories. Under Other, we find interesting subcategories such as: Legal Services; Women and Gender; Union work (which is limited to union research and exchange); and Social Organization (the official term for nonprofits and NGOs) Research, Exchange and Collaboration.

The list of PSUs is pretty conventional, full of government agencies working in the above major fields. There are also a few mass organizations like the Women's Federation, Disabled Persons Federation and All-China Federation of Trade Unions. I would have liked to see a more expansive list that included universities and research institutes, and it looks like there is room for changes in this directory, as an explanatory note in the directory states that it will be revised in the future.

The critical issue is whether these PSUs will be willing to supervise overseas NGOs. In the past, the difficulty of finding a willing PSU was the main obstacle to overseas NGOs seeking to register a representative office. This was the main reason that, of the hundreds of overseas NGOs that had offices in China, only around 29 were able to register a representative office with the Ministry of Civil Affairs between 2004 to 2016. 

There is no reason to believe that PSUs will be more willing now to supervise NGOs under the new Overseas NGO Law. Just because they are listed in this directory does not mean that they have an obligation to be a PSU. The 29 or so NGOs that have an existing PSU and have already registered a representative office with the Ministry of Civil Affairs will very likely have no problem transferring their registration to the Ministry of Public Security. But for the hundreds of other NGOs, there is no guarantee that they will be able to get the approval of a PSU.

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