China’s Overseas NGO Law


China’s Overseas NGO Law and the Future of International Civil Society” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2021.1955292) is a new article by Heike Holbig of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, Hamburg and Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany and Bertram Lang of the Interdisciplinary Centre for East Asian Studies (IZO), also at Goethe University.

The abstract for the paper is:


China’s law to control international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) has sent shockwaves through international non-governmental organisations, civil society and expert communities as the epitome of a worldwide trend of closing civic spaces. Since the Overseas NGO Management Law was enacted in January 2017, its implementation has seen mixed effects and diverging patterns of adaptation among Chinese party-state actors at the central and local levels and among domestic NGOs and INGOs. To capture the formal and informal dynamics underlying their mutual interactions in the longer term, this article employs a theory of institutional change inspired by Elinor Ostrom’s distinction between rules-in-form versus rules-in-use and identifies four scenarios for international civil society in China – “no change,” “restraining,” “recalibrating” and “reorienting.” Based on interviews, participant observation and Chinese policy documents and secondary literature, the respective driving forces, plausibility, likelihood and longer-term implications of each scenario are assessed. It is found that INGOs’ activities are increasingly affected by the international ambitions of the Chinese party-state, which enmeshes both domestic NGOs and INGOs as agents in its diplomatic efforts to redefine civil society participation on a global scale.

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