Friday, September 27, 2019

On the 70th anniversary of the PRC, how can we rebuild China's civil society?

As the People's Republic of China approaches the 70th anniversary of its founding, we need to reflect on an important question and that is how to rebuild China's civil society. China's civil society has made significant progress over the last 40 years, but in the last 5-6 years, it has suffered a great deal and even gone backwards. China desperately needs to recover and rejuvenate the civil society that had been emerging in the early 2010s. More than ever before, China needs a capable, engaged and independent civil society and we need to be thinking now about how to achieve that. As I have said elsewhere,

"In the long run, there really is no good alternative to a robust, vibrant civil society if China wants to develop into a prosperous and stable modern power. Chinese civil society’s responsibility is thus a heavy one and its supporters should recognize this moment as a critical opportunity to rethink how civil society can adapt and move forward."

In that essay, I likened China's civil society to a forest that has experienced a major fire and needs to be regenerated. What then needs to be done to rebuild China's civil society so that it can play a constructive role in guiding China to a better future? Here are some ideas I've been thinking about, not necessarily in order of importance. 

- Strengthening Chinese civil society's understanding of international values, and the capacity and opportunities to engage in exchanges with international civil society

- Strengthening the capacity of Chinese civil society to carry out actions to realize those values

- Strengthening the legitimacy of Chinese civil society among the public, private sector and government.

- Beginning a process of detaching the party and state from civil society, and shaping government policy to create an enabling, rather than controlling, environment for CSOs working in China.

More on these ideas later.