Heike Holbig / Bertram Lang

China’s Overseas NGO Law and the Future of International Civil Society

Journal of Contemporary Asia | 2022

  • Abstract

    China’s law to control international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) has sent shockwaves through international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society and expert communities as the epitome of a worldwide trend of closing civic spaces. Since the Overseas NGO Management Law was enacted in January 2017, its implementation has seen mixed effects and diverging patterns of adaptation among Chinese party-state actors at the central and local levels and among domestic NGOs and INGOs. To capture the formal and informal dynamics underlying their mutual interactions in the longer term, this article employs a theory of institutional change inspired by Elinor Ostrom’s distinction between rules-in-form versus rules-in-use and identifies four scenarios for international civil society in China – “no change,” “restraining,” “recalibrating” and “reorienting.” Based on interviews, participant observation and Chinese policy documents and secondary literature, the respective driving forces, plausibility, likelihood and longer-term implications of each scenario are assessed. It is found that INGOs’ activities are increasingly affected by the international ambitions of the Chinese party-state, which enmeshes both domestic NGOs and INGOs as agents in its diplomatic efforts to redefine civil society participation on a global scale.


    Journal of Contemporary Asia







    Bertram Lang

    Bertram Lang

    Former Associate


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