China to strengthen Communist Party's role in non-govt bodies

BEIJING - China has issued new rules demanding the establishment of Communist Party panels in non-government bodies, aiming to beef up the ruling party's role in such social groups, amid a broad crackdown on civil society.
Western governments and rights groups have already lambasted a law passed in April, saying it treats foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as a criminal threat and would effectively force many out of the country.
The new guidelines, released late on Sunday by the general office of the party's central committee and the State Council, or cabinet, say party committees must be set up to ensure "effective cover" in all NGOs.
"Strengthen political thought education for responsible people at social groups, and guide them to actively support party building," the guidelines said. "Promote the place of party building in the social group's charters."
Supervision of the groups must also be placed high among the daily tasks of local party committees, whose performance will be judged on how well they manage the groups, the guidelines added.
Party committees can also assign their own representatives to run party activities in groups judged sufficiently large, the guidelines say.
The Civil Affairs Ministry will have a role in rooting out bad or illegal behavior, including banning groups.
The ministry this month released its own proposals for new rules on NGOs, among them a demand that they publicize details such as funding and membership or face bans.
China had about 329,000 registered social groups by the end of 2015, state media say.
Chinese officials have defended the foreign NGO law, saying only a few law-breaking groups would be punished and there was no reason to fear the police.
The government also says it has been trying to bring order to a sector that has been plagued by scandals in recent years, including the embezzlement of funds meant for charities.
But rights groups say ambiguous language in the foreign NGO law banning activities that threaten national security or social stability could push out groups the party does not like.
The curbs on Chinese NGOs come as President Xi Jinping reins in civil society, including rights lawyers and the press, a step critics say is meant to quash dissent.
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