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Cablegate: Ngo Leaders Discuss Barriers to the Growth of China's Civil

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DE RUEHGZ #0378/01 0820906
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 230906Z MAR 07
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5923
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GUANGZHOU 000378

SIPDIS

PACOM FOR FPA
STATE FOR EAP/CM, DRL/IL
STATE PASS USTR FOR STRATFORD, WINTER
LABOR FOR ILAB NEWTON, LI ZHAO, SCHOEFFLE
TREASURY FOR OASIA/ISA-DOHNER AND KOEPKE
USDOC FOR 4420/ITA/MAC/MCQUEEN
GENEVA FOR CHAMBERLIN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ELAB PHUM EFIN PGOV SOCI CH
SUBJECT: NGO Leaders Discuss Barriers to the Growth of China's Civil
Society

REFERENCE: A) Guangzhou 176; B) Guangzhou 175; C) 06 Guangzhou
32324; D) 06 Guangzhou 15376; E) 06 Guangzhou 14712; F) 06 Guangzhou
13381; G) 06 Guangzhou 11657

(U) THIS DOCUMENT IS SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED. PLEASE PROTECT
ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: More than 20 NGO leaders and researchers gathered
in Shenzhen on March 18 to discuss the challenges facing China's
emerging civil society. NGOs struggle to gain the confidence of
both the Chinese government, which is suspicious of their ties to
foreign institutions, and the Chinese public, which doubts their
intentions. Domestic sources of funding are scarce, and NGOs
sometimes fight amongst themselves to obtain it. The meeting was
hosted by the Institute of Contemporary Observation (ICO), which
recently celebrated its sixth anniversary and runs successful
training and legal assistance programs for workers. END SUMMARY.

ICO Reviews Its Achievements
----------------------------

2. (SBU) In his opening remarks, ICO founder and executive director
Liu Kaiming reviewed his NGOs accomplishments over the past six
years. Founded in March 2001, ICO has positioned itself as a
non-profit and non-government think-tank with a mission to "promote
decent work and social justice." ICO's full-time staff has expanded
from three to more than 20 today, and part-time staff and volunteers
total more than 4,000. Based in Shenzhen, ICO works primarily in the
Pearl River Delta but is also active throughout greater China.

3. (SBU) ICO activities have included the following:

-- published articles and books on corporate social responsibility,
labor rights, and anti-discrimination.

-- trained more than 30,000 workers, 70% of whom are women from
rural areas, on work safety and health.

-- helped more than 10,000 workers recover unpaid wages of more
than RMB 6 million (USD 775,000) and set up worker complaint
hotlines in 500 Guangdong factories, covering more than 200,000
workers.

-- conducted training sessions for domestic suppliers of
multinational companies such as Nike, Timberland, Mizuno,
Fuji-Xerox, and Burberry to help them meet international labor
standards.

-- conducted anti-AIDS peer education programs in five factories in
Shenzhen and became the first Chinese NGO to join the World Economic
Forum's China Health Association Project.

Dealing with the Government
---------------------------

4. (SBU) Liu commented that ICO is an independent non-government
organization, and is neither controlled by nor affiliated with the
Chinese government, but does on occasion cooperate with government
agencies. Generally, low-ranking officials are more suspicious of
ICO's work than high-ranking officials. Zeng Feiyang, Director of
the Panyu Migrant Workers Documentation Center, an NGO that provides
legal aid to migrant workers, commented that independent NGOs should
maintain open lines of communications with the government to assure
officials that they are not anti-government.

Working with Other Civil Society Organizations
-----------------------------------

5. (SBU) Liu also spoke of ICO's relationship with unions,
universities, and other NGOs. Even though ICO cooperates with
local-level trade unions in project-specific cases, officials at the
All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) continue to regard ICO
as "an enemy that trespasses in ACFTU's field." Cooperation between
Chinese NGOs is sometimes strained because of competition for
limited resources. Dozens of university researchers or students
come to ICO every year for research or internship opportunities.

GUANGZHOU 00000378 002.2 OF 002


Generally speaking, ICO has more interaction with foreign
universities than with Chinese universities. Universities that sent
interns to ICO include Colby University and Calvin College in the
United States, Guangdong College of Business, and Changsha College
of Civil Affairs.

A Dearth of Domestic Funding
----------------------------

6. (SBU) Liu said most of ICO's funding comes from overseas,
including foreign foundations (the Ford Foundation), foreign
universities (the University of California, Berkeley), foreign NGOs
(Oxfam), foreign governments and institutions (the Swedish, British,
and Canadian embassies and the World Bank). Domestic sources of
funding are hard to come by and generally come from universities
(Tsinghua and Peking universities, in the case of ICO). These
comments were echoed by Zeng Feiyang of the Panyu Migrant Workers
Documentation Center, and Chen Zhiqiang of the Handa Rehabilitation
and Welfare Association, an NGO dedicated to the welfare of leprosy
patients. Professor Li Weiwei, of Shenzhen University's Human
Rights Research Center, said China's tax laws do not exempt
donations to NGOs and charities and suggested that civil society
groups push for reform in this area to increase their domestic
funding. Professor Wang Yunxiang of the Guangdong Foreign Studies
University's School of Law pointed out that the Chinese government
is suspicious of the motives of civil society groups because many
are financed by foreign governments or institutions.

The Question of Legal Status
----------------------------

7. (SBU) Professor Wang said the Chinese government is hesitant to
grant independent civil society organizations official NGO legal
status. As a result, a majority of Chinese NGOs, including ICO and
the Panyu Migrant Workers' Documentation Center, register as
commercial institutions with the Administration of Industry and
Commerce, rather than as NGOs with the Civil Affairs Department.
(Civil society groups have also told us that they are unwilling to
register as NGOs because the process requires that they have an
official government sponsor.) Wang said that most organizations
that are legally registered as NGOs in China, such as the China
Women's Association and the China Disabled People's Federation, are
not truly NGOs because they are funded and controlled by the
government.

Overcoming Public Doubts
------------------------

8. (SBU) Another impediment to the growth of China's civil society
is the Chinese public's reflexive suspicion of NGOs. According to
Professor Wang, telling the public that NGOs help people for free is
like telling them that "pies fall from the sky." In addition, some
people associate "non-government" with "anti-government" and
distance themselves from NGOs. Wang added that Chinese research on
civil society only emerged in the 1990s and is still quite backward.
Chinese researchers typically use western models in studying civil
society, which do not always fit China's situation.

Comment: A Long Way to Go
-------------------------

9. (SBU) Operating an NGO in China remains a daunting task, with
legal, funding, and public relations challenges. South China
governments continue to keep a watchful eye on emerging civil
society organizations and have thus far largely restricted their
activities to labor and health assistance -- fulfilling public
services needs that the government is not able to provide. Though
most NGOs are pragmatic and content to stay out of politics, they
find it difficult to convince the government and the public that
they are essentially benevolent and patriotic organizations. With
its rapid growth and expanding reach, ICO is proof that a Chinese
NGO model -- with help from international institutions -- is
emerging.

ROCK

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