March 16, 2010
New rules that came into effect March 1 require non-governmental organizations working in China to show proof that overseas donors are registered in their home countries. Faith-based groups also must get approval from the State Religious Affairs Bureau for any donation exceeding 1 million yuan (US $146,000). The rules were posted on the Web site of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, which normally has little to do with NGOs.
Wan Yanhai, a Beijing-based AIDS activist, said the new requirements will affect tens of thousands of groups that rely primarily on overseas money. However, that figure cannot be verified, in part because no one knows how many NGOs are working in China. According to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, approximately 400,000 groups are registered. But a report published by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has estimated the total number could be 3 million.
"No government official knows how to regulate them," and they do not know what most NGOs are doing, explained Wang Liwei, CEO of China Charity Media Group.
"I think it's inevitable that they were going to start tightening the noose on NGOs," said Meg Davis, executive director of Asia Catalyst, a New York-based group that works on AIDS-related projects in China. "There's a sense at the top that they're suspicious of NGO powers."
In the Yunnan province, Davis' group works with 90 HIV-infected women. The new regulations are complicating overseas funding efforts, she said. "Stopping work is not an option. These women are working with a population that is sick and dying. The only thing we can attempt to do is comply as best as we can," she added.