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Cablegate: Slow Improvements in South China Ngo Environment

VZCZCXRO6285
RR RUEHCN RUEHGH RUEHVC
DE RUEHGZ #0678/01 3490927
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 150927Z DEC 09
FM AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1175
INFO RUEHOO/CHINA POSTS COLLECTIVE 0379
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0943
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0307
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0308
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 0317
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 0376
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 0281
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC 0205
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC 0110
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC 0352
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC 0348
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC 0025

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GUANGZHOU 000678

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/CM, OES/PCI, DRL, AND EAP/PD
STATE ALSO PASS USTR FOR CHINA OFFICE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON PGOV SOCI SCUL EAID SMIG PHUM CH
SUBJECT: Slow Improvements in South China NGO Environment

REF: Guangzhou 17

GUANGZHOU 00000678 001.2 OF 002


(U) This document is sensitive but unclassified. Please protect
accordingly. Not for release outside U.S. government channels. Not
for internet publication.

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Since the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when the
Chinese government tacitly allowed some non-government organizations
(NGOs) to play a role in the relief effort, NGOs have had relatively
more freedom in which to operate, according to NGO leaders and
academics in south China. However, the Chinese government still
maintains a watchful eye on NGO-related activities and the overall
political environment is not ideal for fostering NGO growth. South
China experts say that the Chinese government's improved
understanding of NGO functions and greater international exposure
are essential for the sector to mature. They cautioned that the
road ahead would be difficult, but nevertheless, they believe that
the sector's development is inevitable. End Summary.

Signs of Government Openness towards NGOs
-----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Chinese NGOs are enjoying greater freedoms to carry out
their missions compared to several years ago, according to Li
Weining (aka Miles W.N. Lee), a senior research fellow at China
Development Institute (CDI), a government-funded think tank in
Shenzhen. With NGOs playing a major role in the relief effort in
the aftermath of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the Chinese
government has tacitly afforded NGOs with greater operational space,
said Li. An organization making use of this window is the Institute
of Civil Society (ICS) at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, which
has set up a one-year community building project to help villagers
in Sichuan reconstruct their community. Professor Zhu Jiangang,
director of ICS, said that the institute's existence and its work in
Sichuan and other provinces prove that there is space in China to
support NGO development and that NGOs can cooperate with the
government and businesses to do this work.

3. (SBU) China's official position on NGOs has also begun to show
signs of change. In a recent episode of "Economy 30-Minutes" on
China's state television CCTV watched by ConGenOff that spotlighted
China's trafficking-in-person efforts, the host encouraged and
underscored the importance of NGOs working with the government to
solve missing children cases. The host referred to NGOs not by the
sanctioned minjian zuzhi (civil society organization) label, but by
the often avoided feizhengfu zuzhi (non-government organization)
term. (Comment: The explicit use of the term feizhengfu zuzhi and
the proposed cooperation between NGOs and the government via CCTV
were breaks from the past. End comment.)

4. (SBU) Local governments in south China have also increased their
funding for social programs. Shenzhen's government has begun to
grant annual subsidies of up to RMB 60,000 to social programs run by
government agencies, businesses, schools, and NGOs, according to
Zhou Xinjing, founder of Allied Social Work Services Center of
Shenzhen (ASWS). Her organization, a registered NGO that uses
proceeds from the sale of used items to support a local migrant
community, applied for one of these grants and was recently notified
of their award. Zhou suggested that such subsidies may be one of
the reasons for the rapid development of social work centers and
NGOs in Shenzhen. However, she speculated that many new
organizations are simply trying to get the subsidies rather than
providing social services. For this reason and other management
considerations, the failure rate of NGOs in Shenzhen and surrounding
areas is relatively high despite the local government's effort to
provide financing, said CDI's Li.

Chinese Government Barriers to Civil Society Growth
--------------------------------------------- ------

5. (SBU) Despite the seemingly more open social atmosphere, China's
current political and legal environment is still not ideal for
cultivating civil society growth, said a south China NGO expert. He
argued that not only does China's one-party system more generally
foster apathy and remove a sense of personal responsibility for
society, it also lacks an effective legal framework in which NGOs

GUANGZHOU 00000678 002.2 OF 002


can function. Although organizations may apply to register as a
"civil society organization" with China's Ministry of Civil Affairs,
few actually meet the requirements. Many organizations operate
illegally or as business enterprises, putting them outside any legal
framework governing NGOs, said the expert. For organizations that
are registered as an enterprise, this also affects their fundraising
abilities. Because of their legal status, such organizations are
precluded from applying for government grants or conducting
fundraising campaigns, explained one Shenzhen NGO leader. Also,
these organizations do not appeal to businesses in search of
corporate responsibility activities because it cannot provide any
tax incentives. Chinese corporations are only now in the early
stages of recognizing the concept of civic responsibility and its
concomitant public relations benefits.

6. (SBU) The government continues to monitor NGO activities closely
in south China, particularly during important anniversaries and
events. In the days approaching the October 1 National Day,
ConGenOff attended a Hong Kong-based AIDS charity's celebration of
its new office opening in Guangzhou. During the event, police
officers entered the office and questioned the organizers. They
also required anyone entering or leaving the unit to register
his/her name, identification card number, and work unit. ConGenOff
witnessed two men, who event guests speculated were members of the
Ministry of Public Security, briefly videotaping the event. Several
renowned scholars on HIV/AIDS who were scheduled to speak at the
event reportedly cancelled at the last minute because of the tight
surveillance. The director of the foundation was purportedly taken
in by local police for questioning until the early morning hours.

Difficult Road for an Inevitable Trend
--------------------------------------

7. (SBU) South China experts say that the growth of China's civil
society is, however, inevitable. They believe that the Chinese
government recognizes the importance of NGOs in developing a healthy
civil society. It will take another 10 to 20 years for the NGO
sector to mature, said one expert. Financial accountability is
essential to the sector's development. Additionally, the sector
needs greater exposure to international NGO operating standards and
practices in the form of international assistance and cooperation.
The Chinese government, however, also needs to do its homework to
understand how NGOs can contribute, said the expert. With that
understanding, Chinese NGOs will have more freedom to operate.

8. (SBU) Another researcher cautioned that the road ahead for NGOs
is a difficult one, especially for advocacy organizations or rights
defenders, because the political environment can be uncertain. He
said that the government needs to understand that "action does not
equal an intention to overthrow" the current establishment.
However, he remains optimistic, saying that a new law governing
philanthropy, expected to be released next year, will further expand
the space for NGO development.


GOLDBECK

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