NGO law shows China’s ‘challenging environment’

Christians working in China may be facing the “most challenging environment in decades”, according to Brent Fulton, president of China Source.

This observation comes following the 1 January introduction of a new law regulating foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which, according to a spokeswoman for the American Embassy in Beijing, could create a “potentially hostile environment for foreign non-profit, non-governmental organisations and their Chinese partners”.

According to an article in the New York Times, the NGO law is the government’s attempt to “narrow permissible activities of foreign groups and monitor their work much more thoroughly … Those working on legal issues will have a much narrower foothold. ‘Human rights,’ for example, is not on the list of permitted issues”.

As the BBC reports, of the “dozens” of human rights lawyers who went missing in 2015, just one returned to his profession, while the others were either found guilty of political subversion, are still missing, or were released but “intimidated into silence … [becoming] either uncontactable or monitored and threatened”. One of these, Zhang Kai, a Christian who had been defending churches in Zhejiang over cross removals was released from six months’ “residential surveillance in an undisclosed location” in February 2016 after his televised ‘confession’. He returned to his family in Inner Mongolia.

Fulton suggests Christians working in China need to “seriously rethink their approach” given the “not entirely unexpected developments”, which, he says, have “characterised China since 2012”.

He lists some events of the past year, which, he says, “suggest that what’s ahead may be anything but ‘business as usual’”: “tightening visa restrictions for foreign workers … the NGO law … heightened surveillance of all foreigners … clampdown on Christian book publishing … ongoing cross removal campaign in Zhejiang … highly publicised show-trials of Christian lawyers who sought to aid fellow Christians and other disadvantaged groups … new draft regulations that could limit Christian activity on the Internet, forbid Christians from going abroad and target unregistered gatherings … increased pressure on Christian university professors … and the forced closure of unofficial ‘house churches’.”