China toughens rules on private think-tanks in ongoing crackdown

BEIJING • China has ordered private think-tanks to register with the authorities which will also keep tabs on research activity, under new rules published by state media, in the ruling Communist Party's latest move to stamp its authority on intellectual bodies.

President Xi Jinping has overseen a drive to place the party back at the centre of China's media, academia and charities, while cracking down on civil society by detaining rights lawyers and reining in independent research bodies and publications.

Think-tanks' objectives are to serve the Communist Party and aid government decision-making, says a copy of the rules issued jointly by nine government departments and released by Xinhua news agency.

Privately run think-tanks must register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and a professional supervisory unit under the new rules, which bar unregistered bodies from calling themselves think-tanks. "Possessing legal qualifications is an integral part of new-style think-tanks with Chinese characteristics," added the document.

Professional supervisory units should perform checks on think-tanks registered with them, and report to the authorities regulatory breaches such as unapproved foreign funding or contact, or failures to carry out "party building".

Under the new rules, think-tanks that are looking to publish statistical analyses of government data must first consult China's Bureau of Statistics.

Those that fail to release information in a timely way, or to change leadership when ordered to do so by the Civil Affairs Ministry, will be placed on a public list of "abnormal" social enterprises.

But the new rules did not include a date, leaving unclear whether they take immediate effect.

There is no official figure for the number of think-tanks in China, but estimates range from 250 to 450.

Last year, China introduced two laws requiring registration by foreign non-government bodies and domestic charities, as well as extra checks with the authorities, to regulate the sector and protect national security.

Foreign diplomats and rights activists have criticised the laws as being designed to stifle civil society and shutter groups considered a threat to party power.

In January, the authorities took down the website of the Unirule Institute of Economics, a privately run think-tank in Beijing that advocates free-market policies, along with 16 other sites, citing "false" content and licensing issues.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2017, with the headline China toughens rules on private think-tanks in ongoing crackdown. Subscribe