China adopts law imposing new controls on foreign non-governmental organisations: Xinhua

BEIJING (AFP/REUTERS) - China's Communist-controlled legislature passed a law imposing new regulations on foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on Thursday (April 28), the official Xinhua news agency reported, without giving details of any amendments.

The National People's Congress (NPC) standing committee, which acts as the Parliament when the NPC is not in full session, gave the law almost unanimous approval, with 147 votes in favour and only one against.

The full text was not immediately available, but a draft of the Bill described by the official Xinhua news agency in a report earlier this week carried many provisions that previously triggered concerns. It covers foreign charities, business associations, academic institutions and others in China, and requires them to "partner" with a Chinese government-controlled agency and report their actions to the authorities.

Chinese police would have the right to cancel any activities they judged a threat to national security, and would be empowered to "invite for talks" the heads of foreign NGOs in China, Xinhua said. It added police could add any foreign NGO they judged to promote "subversion of state power" or "separatism" to a "not welcome list", which would ban them from the country.

Overseas NGOs would also be forbidden from recruiting "members" in mainland China, Xinhua said, barring special permission from the State Council, China's Cabinet. It was not specified whether that included local staff.

The law is part of a raft of legislation, including China's counterterrorism law and a draft cyber security law, put forward amid a renewed crackdown on dissent by President Xi Jinping's administration.

State media said this week legislators had recommended it be put to a vote following adjustments to some provisions criticised by foreign governments and civil society groups. It was not immediately clear what had been changed.

The United States, Canada and the European Union had urged China to revise the law, earlier versions of which gave broad latitude to the police to regulate activities and funding of overseas groups operating in China.

Western critics had argued it was too vague and could severely limit the operations of social and environmental advocacy groups, besides business organisations and academia.

"We are also deeply concerned about the provisions in the draft Law on Foreign NGO Management," Mr Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, the European Union ambassador to China, wrote in a letter earlier this year seen by AFP.

"Unless the law undergoes serious revision... it is likely to hinder people to people contacts, academic exchanges and commercial activities, all crucial elements of our bilateral relationship."

At least 1,000 foreign NGOs are thought to operate in China, including development charities such as Save the Children, advocacy groups such as Greenpeace, chambers of commerce and university centres.

China's state-run media in recent years have accused such organisations of undermining national security and trying to foment "colour revolution" against the ruling party.

China in January arrested and deported a Swedish human rights activist who had trained Chinese lawyers, and foreign NGO staff working on legal issues report an increasingly restricted environment.

Mr Xi has in recent years overseen a crackdown on civil society, with scores of lawyers, academics and activists detained and dozens jailed.