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Hong Kong NGOs Fear New Rules Will Jeopardize Work on Mainland

FILE - Chinese officials answer questions about a law regulating overseas non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during a press conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, April 28, 2016.

China has not specified what kinds of actions may violate national unity or security.

Jason Chan says he still has more questions than answers about how his labor-rights organization will be able to do its work in China under Beijing's new rules on the operation of NGOs.

Even though Hong Kong and Macau are legally part of China, organizations based in the two territories will be treated the same way as foreign-based groups under the new law.

Those rules include a stipulation that NGOs must not “endanger China’s national unity, security, or ethnic unity; must not harm China’s national interests, societal public interest and the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal persons, and other organizations.”

National security

“We want to know, what is the definition of national security?" said Chan, the executive director of Labor Action China, during an interview in his Hong Kong office. " It seems to us it has given too much power to the Ministry of Public Security under the name of national security,” said Jason Chan, the executive director of Labor Action China.

China has not specified what kinds of actions may violate national unity or security, which Chan said leaves organizations like his vulnerable.

The regulations also require NGOs from outside the mainland to have an official Chinese sponsor or host, and restrict them from raising money or funding political activities in China.

The laws grant police much more authority over the organizations, and allow authorities to inspect the offices, finances or activities of the NGOs at any time. Critics say they tighten the space for civil society and activism, and will make operating within the mainland more difficult.

'China Labor Bulletin' promotes workers rights

The China Labor Bulletin is headquartered in Hong Kong, but the organization has many partners in the mainland.

Geoffrey Crothall, CLB’s communications director, said the organization’s work has already been negatively impacted by greater restrictions on its Chinese partners.

“It is certainly a difficult operating environment at the moment. One of the organizations in Guangdong and Southern China that we work with is being closed down and two of the senior leaders have been arrested and are awaiting trial, so that definitely is a problem for us. But other people that we work with are able to carry on as before, but sometimes in a more limited capacity,” he said.

Animals Asia foundation

Even NGOs that do not work on rule-of-law or workers rights, like the Hong Kong-based Animals Asia foundation, said they will observe implementation of the new regulations closely.

“Obviously we’re going to be keeping a really keen eye out on the legislation as it progresses. It’s not going to be enacted until January 2017, and of course we are working with the legal departments in China to try to ascertain more about the general focus of the law so that we’re well-prepared," said Jill Robinson, founder of the Animals Asia Foundation.

"At this time Animals Asia is not really too worried about it, but as I say we are one of several thousand NGOs, and it remains to be seen what the direction is for being officially registered in China,” she said.