China’s hold on power

A draft law would crimp or de­stroy non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions in the coun­try.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - Tom Toles is away.

ONE OF the defin­ing fea­tures of com­mu­nism in the Chi­nese ex­pe­ri­ence has been the fierce de­ter­mi­na­tion of party lead­ers to main­tain a mo­nop­oly on power and oblit­er­ate any com­pe­ti­tion. China’s bosses have largely aban­doned com­mu­nism as an eco­nomic prin­ci­ple and em­braced cap­i­tal­ism, but when it comes to the levers of power, they don’t give an inch.

Yet the re­al­ity is that China sim­ply can­not ful­fill all the needs of its cit­i­zens, and there has been plenty for non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions to do. Over the past two decades, all kinds of non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions have sprung up, many funded from abroad, help­ing with health care, busi­ness and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and fill­ing other needs. While China has of­ten re­fused to for­mally register these groups, they have op­er­ated any­way, in a sort of le­gal gray zone.

Now, China has put for­ward a draft law that could po­ten­tially wipe out these or­ga­ni­za­tions, both those sup­ported from over­seas and home­grown. The law would re­quire all non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions to be vet­ted by China’s se­cu­rity po­lice, re­quire them to find an of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment “spon­sor” and sub­ject them to in­tru­sive in­spec­tions, con­trols and hir­ing rules. Fail­ure to fol­low the law could bring crim­i­nal penal­ties.

The draft law is writ­ten in a vague way to give the se­cu­rity po­lice wide dis­cre­tion. Al­most any group could be­come a tar­get. Ira Belkin and Jerome A. Co­hen of New York Univer­sity Law School’s U.S.-Asia Law In­sti­tute wrote re­cently that “even a sin­gle lec­ture by a Har­vard pro­fes­sor, an art ex­hibit by New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, an act of char­ity or hu­man­i­tar­ian dis­as­ter re­lief by the Red Cross, an ath­letic com­pe­ti­tion, a per­for­mance by a high school march­ing band, or a schol­ar­ship of­fered to a Chi­nese stu­dent could fall un­der the purview of the law — so long as the event is car­ried out within China by, or on be­half of, a for­eign non­profit.” As The Post’s Si­mon Denyer re­ported last month, the draft lawhas also drawn ob­jec­tions from the U.S. and Euro­pean busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties, which fear it could crimp for­eign in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions, univer­si­ties and science and tech­nol­ogy in­sti­tutes, among other en­ti­ties.

The draft law ap­pears to re­flect a drive by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to purge Western ideas and val­ues from con­tem­po­rary China, a theme that ran through a long in­ter­nal party mem­o­ran­dum known as “Doc­u­ment No. 9” that cir­cu­lated two years ago. Mr. Xi’s ac­tions re­flect para­noia about the threat of non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions as some kind of “fifth col­umn,” sub­ver­sive forces that could un­der­mine the party’s grip on power. This is a tired and stale fear of au­thor­i­tar­ian bosses, in China and else­where. Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin has also been crack­ing the whip, la­bel­ing NGOs as “for­eign agents.”

Mr. Xi and his co­horts will be hurt­ing the Chi­nese peo­ple first and fore­most by deny­ing them valu­able help from these groups. But that seems to be in keep­ing with the party’s max­i­mum con­cern for it­self above all else.


Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, left, and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, right, in­May.


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