Thursday, December 8, 2016

Foreign Consulates Meet with Public Security officials about the Overseas NGO Law

We are only 24 days away from the Overseas NGO Law going into effect in China, and the only official news we have gotten in the past two months are an October 14 meeting between the Public Security officials with foreign NGOs (mostly business and trade groups) in Shanghai to announce draft Guidelines for the law, a November 8 meeting in Shanghai between Public Security officials and foreign consulates (the subject of this post), and the release of the final official Guidelines.

A summary of the November 8 meeting, the official Guidelines (境外非政府组织代表机构登记和临时活动备案办事指南) in Chinese, and the official English langauge-translation of the Overseas NGO Law are now available on the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) website.  There is so far no official English language translation of the Guidelines, although there is an unofficial translation available on ChinaLawTranslate, and on the WeChat account of FORNGO which bills itself as a center that provides “professional legal services for assisting overseas NGOs with registration of overseas NGO offices, application of filing the record of temporary activities, etc.”.

The remainder of this post is about the November 8 meeting between the MPS and Shanghai PSB and 11 foreign consulates[1] about preparations for the implementation of the Overseas NGO Law.  Several questions were raised at the meeting, particularly (1) whether there would be a "grace period” to give overseas NGOs time to comply with the law, (2) whether NGO representative offices could carry out activities across provinces, and (30 how overseas NGOs with activities in different sectors would determine their professional supervisory units (PSU) or as they are referred to in the Guidelines, business administration departments (BAD).

Before answering these questions, the MPS representative in charge of the Overseas NGO Management office (公安部境外非政府组织管理办公室) made a several statements that were similar to those given at the October 14 meeting.

1) The MPS was giving high-level attention to the work of servicing and managing Overseas NGO and providing efficient and convenient services, and was making intense preparations to ensure that the law would be effectively implemented on January 1, 2017.

2) The coordination mechanism for FNGO supervision and management work had already been established with the MPS and other relevant PSUs participating, to research, coordinate and solve major problems in supervision, management and services for overseas NGOs carrying out activities in China.

3) Provincial Public Security Bureau’s (PSB) Entry/Exit offices were setting up counters for handling registration. In order to provide guidance and help to overseas NGOs seeking to register a representative office or file a record for “temporary activities”, relevant standard documents were being formulated, including the Guidelines for Registration of Overseas NGO Rep Offices and Filing of Records for Temporary Activities 《境外非政府组织代表机构登记和临时活动备案办事指南》, and a Catalogue of Overseas NGO Sectors and Project Areas and Directory of PSUs 《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》.

4) An information system and website was being established for overseas NGO management services so that overseas NGOs can go on the website to handle matters and make appointments for registration and filing of records, and apply and submit relevant materials online. Relevant guidance materials would also be published online.

5) The MPS would work together with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) and State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) to transfer the registration of those overseas NGO representative offices registered with these two agencies to ensure a smooth transition to the new management framework and protect the legal rights of these overseas NGOs.

This last item refers to the 29 or so overseas NGOs which have managed to register representative offices with the MCA under the 2004 Foundation Management Regulations, and those overseas NGOs that were unable to register representative offices with MCA but were permitted to register representative offices of companies with SAIC.

With regard to the questions posed above, the MPS spokesman provided the following responses.

About the question on the grace period, he replied that "China is a rule of law country, and any laws that go into effect will not have any grace period. When the Overseas NGO Law was passed on April 28, with the aim of going into effect on January 1, 2017, legislative bodies already considered this was a new law and allowed eight months for a preparation period to issue guidelines and catalogues for sectors and projects and a directory of PSUs. He also stated that as soon as the law went into effect, the activities of overseas NGOs and their representatives in mainland China that were registered or recorded would receive legal protection.

Regarding whether overseas NGO representative offices could undertake activities across several provinces, he stated that based on Article 10 and 13 of the Law, FNGOs could set up one or more representative offices in China, and at the time of registration should confirm the geographic area for the activities carried out by that office. A representative office would be allowed to carry out activities across different provinces. For overseas NGO that set up two or more rep offices, the activities of these offices should not overlap or duplicate each other.

Regarding the question of how overseas NGOs that work in different sectors or fields would determine their PSU, he stated that currently they are working on a catalogue of overseas NGO sectors and projects and a directory of PSUs to provide clarification and detail on PSUs in the areas of economy, education, science and tech, culture, health, sports, environmental protection, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, etc. He noted that “for overseas NGOs working in multiple sectors/fields, the MPS is proposing that overseas NGOs determine its PSU based on their primary or major field of activity. For the overseas NGO's other fields of activity, the main PSU can consult with other relevant departments which should actively cooperate to ensure the management and service work is carried out, and ensure that the overseas NGO is complying with the law in carrying out activities in those issue areas.” 

He did not elaborate on how exactly this proposed arrangement and coordination between the “main PSU” and other relevant departments would work in practice.

In closing, the MPS spokesman emphasized that over the last 30 years of reform and opening, China's economic development and international influence have grown, and overseas NGOs have played a positive role in that process by bringing in projects and funds, diverse ideas, advanced technologies, and valuable experiences. In doing so, they have promoted friendly exchanges between China and other countries, and made a positive contribution to China's economic and social development. China's government continues to welcome and support overseas NGOs to come to China to develop cooperation and exchange programs. The MPS would firmly carry out its work according to the law, carry out its services and management work according to the law, and would work hard to provide assistance and services to overseas NGOs engaged in exchange and cooperation with China.

[1] The U.S., UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Netherlands, Poland, Belgium, and Ireland.

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