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A Call for More Tolerance by Chinese Authorities of NGOs

by Fred Fortin

Non governmental organizations, or NGOs, as they are called in international parlance, bring to the developing world a wide variety of valuable and necessary services especially when it comes to health care. I’ve talked before about NGO development in China, the democratic public sphere that local and foreign NGOs support, and the thin line they walk with government authorities in promoting social change. I quoted from Nick Young, a journalist who founded the China Development Brief (CDB) a newsletter reporting on NGO issues, and an advocate for their growth and development. In a subsequent post, I ran, in full, his statement on how authorities had shut down the Chinese edition of the the CDB.

Now we read in the Christian Science Monitor, that Nick is barred from even entering the country. In his CSM article, Nick describes his encounters with Chinese officials as he seeks to negotiate his way clear to continue his work. It is, however, to no avail. He writes,

(The) decision to bar me is a grim reflection on China’s concept of security. I have consistently argued that China has a right to develop and that the West has a duty to help it find a sustainable path in a global environment already seriously hurt by Western development. To construe this as enmity, or to believe that a better relationship could be achieved by bribery and bullying, is not only absurd but also deeply worrying.

Most disturbing is that this primitive “friend or foe” logic is still applied not just to foreigners, but to Chinese people. Recent months have seen heightened surveillance of local NGOs and the forced closure of some, such as a “rural reconstruction” initiative led by the eminent People’s University professor, Wen Tiejun. This is the government’s way of “killing the chicken to scare the monkey,” as the Chinese proverb goes. It’s a signal to others to watch their step.

Nick argues against these senseless and self-destructive restraints on China’s most promising NGOs. As he says, China’s development of a harmonious society “will not be helped by security officials harassing a growing NGO community that embraces many of the country’s most thoughtful, able, and caring citizens. This is talent that China needs to encourage, not alienate.”

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