In an acknowledgment of the growing importance of independent organizations, the Chinese government has pledged to allow charities and other nonprofit organizations to play a larger role in society, the reports.
Announced concurrently with the annual legislative meeting in Beijing, the policy change will make it possible for charities, community service groups, industry associations, and groups that work in science and technology to register directly for nonprofit status with the Civil Affairs Ministry — and without government sponsors, as previously required. "Overall, from now on, the role that our country's social organizations will play in economic and social development will be expanded and strengthened," said Civil Affairs minister Li Liguo at a press conference.
In recent years, and especially after the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008, nonprofit organizations have played an increasingly important role in Chinese society. The government's gesture, however, seems to exclude organizations involved in issues deemed politically sensitive such as AIDS prevention or legal activism, as well as those working to expose environmental pollution and abuses, the AP reports. Such groups, many of which are not registered, are often harassed by tax authorities and the police.
Still, the changes are a positive signal that the government no longer sees all nonprofit groups as a threat, organizer Lu Jun of the anti-discrimination group told the AP. At the same time, said Lu, China needs to open up to more kinds of nongovernmental organizations, especially those that can provide legal advice and representation. "They are the most needed ones under the present society, which severely lacks justice. Not opening up to these kinds of organizations is a huge flaw."