Thoughts on NGOs and the Opinion on Party Building in Social Organizations

On September 28 the CCP General Office issued the Opinion on the Work of Strengthening Party Building in Social Organizations (for trial implementation) [here, in Chinese]. The Opinion mandates the establishment of Party leading groups in all social organizations, a broad term which includes foreign-funded NGOs. 

I am not translating or summarizing the Opinion. A partial translation is already available on China Law Translate, and I invite all those interested to contribute to it. Summaries of the Opinion will be published very soon by the finest scholars in the field of Chinese civil society. Coming, as it does, in the immediate aftermath of the debate over the Foreign NGOs Management Law (a debate about which I have written  elsewhere) the Opinion might be seen as the latest move in a sustained attempt to suffocate the foreign-funded non-profit sector in China. 

A similar interpretation would be consistent with the premises of an interpretive scheme postulating that any legislative or regulatory move by the CCP ought to be seen with suspicion and skepticism. Sometimes, an hermeneutics of suspicion is necessary to understand what a political or legal document really means. But, sometimes interpretations based on skepticism and suspicion can lead one to overlook more important dynamics. 

The existence of Party leading groups or Party committees, within each public or private institution is a normal feature of an admittedly Leninist system as the People's Republic of China. 

A Leninist system that did not deeply reach into the society it governs would be comparable to a tree without roots. If Party committees are the tree's main roots, Party leading groups in social organizations are similar to smaller roots, or to the microvascular system of the human body. From this point of view, this far the anomaly has been the absence of Party groups from Chinese and foreign-funded NGOs. 

Given the requirement to supervise social organizations, direct supervision by a Party group is preferable to supervision by non-Party organs. Institutionalized supervision can guarantee a greater regularity and predictability of NGOs operations. This is an only seeming paradox...

The Opinion is, like the Foreign NGOs Management Law, nothing really new or unexpected. Neither it is incoherent with the logic of the PRC political/legal system. This document is a further step towards the completion of the CCP's regulatory system. 

Chapter 9 of the CCP Statute mandates the creation of Party leading groups or committees in each central or local economic or cultural institution, or non-Party entity. 

第九章 党 组

第四十六条 在中央和地方国家机关、人民团体、经济组织、文化组织和其他非党组织的领导机关中,可以成立党组。党组发挥领导核心作用。党组的任务,主要是负责贯彻执行党的路线、方针、政策;讨论和决定本单位的重大问题;做好干部管理工作;团结党外干部和群众,完成党和国家交给的任务;指导机关和直属单位党组织的工作。

第四十七条 党组的成员,由批准成立党组的党组织决定。党组设书记,必要时还可以设副书记。


第四十八条 对下属单位实行集中统一领导的国家工作部门可以建立党委,党委的产生办法、职权和工作任务,由中央另行规定。

Chapter IX Leading Party Members' Groups

Article 46. A leading Party members' group may be formed in the leading body of a central or local state organ, people's organization, economic or cultural institution or other non-Party unit. The group plays the role of the core of leadership. Its main tasks are: to see to it that the Party's line, principles and policies are implemented, to discuss and decide on matters of major importance in its unit, to do well in cadre management, to rally the non-Party cadres and the masses in fulfilling the tasks assigned by the Party and the state and to guide the work of the Party organization of the unit and those directly under it.

Article 47. The composition of a leading Party members' group is decided by the Party organization that approves its establishment. The group shall have a secretary and, if necessary, deputy secretaries.

A leading Party members' group must accept the leadership of the Party organization that approves its establishment.

Article 48. Party committees may be set up in state organs which exercise centralized leadership over their subordinate units. The Central Committee of the Party shall provide the specific procedure for their establishment and define their functions, powers and tasks.

The first attempts in this direction were made already in 1998, with the issuance of the Central Organization Department and Ministry of Civil Affairs Notice on the Problem of Establishing Party groups in Social Organizations [here, in Chinese]. Two years later, in 2000, the Central Organization Department enacted the Opinion on Strengthening the Construction of Party Groups in Social Organizations [here, in Chinese]. As it has happened in the case of the Foreign NGOs Management Law, earlier developments went largely unnoticed. 

What most seem to have missed is that we are in the midst of a process where, for the first time in the history of the PRC, the entire Party regulatory system is undergoing a systematic reform. The path and content of reforms is described in the Outline of the Central Committee's Five-Years Plan on the Issuance of Party Legislation 2013 - 2017 [here, in Chinese].Article 2, Paragraph 2 of the Plan calls for standardizing the system of leading Party groups, and for enacting the CCP Regulations on the Work of Leading Party Groups, which would fill the gaps in the 1998 and 2000 documents. 

As the CCP Legislative Plan mentions, the Regulations on the Work of  Leading Party Groups should clarify the relationship between Party groups and non-Party entities as judicial organs, but also local governments, local people's congresses and so on. 
A trial version of the Regulations was already enacted in June, and it is available here [in Chinese]. The Opinion represents a further step in the direction set by the CCP Legislative Plan, and could result in a greater autonomy and ease of operations for the more than 600.000 officially registered social organizations.