This article originally appeared on ChinaFile’s The China NGO Project.
The author of this piece is a former employee of the United States Department of State. The opinions and characterizations in this paper are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent official positions of the United States Government.
The Chinese government has established “coordination groups” at the national and provincial levels specifically to manage Foreign NGOs in the context of the newly-enacted Law on the Management of Foreign Non-Governmental Organizations’ Activities in the People’s Republic of China. According to authoritative Chinese media, the National Coordinating Small Group for Foreign NGO Management Work was established in May 2016, though it seems not to have been publicly reported until this year.
The Ministry of Public Security, which is the leading entity in implementing the Foreign NGO Law and managing government interaction with foreign NGOs, heads the coordination group. 28 other government entities are also represented in the group. The names of these entities have not been obviously reported in Chinese media sources, which is not uncommon for such groups. Article 7 of the Foreign NGO Law appears to be the mechanism that mandated the formation of the new group. As translated by China Law Translate, Article 7 states, “The State establishes a coordination mechanism for efforts to supervise and manage foreign NGOs, responsible for research, coordination, and resolution of major issues in the supervision and management and facilitation and service for foreign NGOs carrying out activities in mainland China.”
In composition and name, the National Coordinating Small Group for Foreign NGO Management Work resembles the dozens of “leading small groups” that help coordinate policymaking and implementation at the national level and below. This policymaking mechanism is used by both the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese state to convene stakeholders on a given issue and generate policy guidance.
A number of provinces (or province-level cities and regions), such as Gansu, Chongqing, Ningxia, Anhui, Inner Mongolia, and Guizhou, have reported establishing their own Coordinating Small Groups for Foreign NGO Management Work. This confirms previously uncorroborated rumors that provinces are establishing such coordination groups to manage Foreign NGO Law implementation in their respective areas. It is likely that other, if not all, provinces have also set up their own coordinating groups, in keeping with the pattern of other national-level leading small groups that presage the establishment of corresponding organizations at the provincial level.
The “National” in the title of the National Coordinating Small Group for Foreign NGO Management Work indicates that it is a state rather than a Party group. It remains unclear whether the lack of the word “Leading” in its title suggests it is a lower-prestige group; both the Xinjiang and Tibet groups also lack “Leading” in their official titles, but both represent policy issues of high concern for the Chinese leadership. Whether the National Coordinating Small Group for Foreign NGO Management Work is a permanent, term-limited, or task-limited group (such as past groups that were established to manage one-time tasks like the construction of a particular railway) remains unclear. For a deep dive into the history and types of Party leading small groups, see Alice Miller’s helpful articles in China Leadership Monitor.