While international human rights groups often protest China’s attempts to restrict freedoms of its people, foreign businesses, with profits on the line, have traditionally been less willing to do so. But now, many have joined Western governments in opposing Beijing’s latest plan to impose new controls on foreign organizations.
Under the guise of protecting national security, one proposal would severely curtail the activities of foreign nongovernment organizations (NGOs), including business-affilated groups and universities, according to media reports. It would require such groups to find an official sponsor, presumably a government-backed agency, and gives broad latitude to the police to regulate the groups’ activities and financing. If NGO representatives and other foreign groups are found to “subvert state power” or to “engage in or provide financial assistance for political activities,” they could be detained for up to 15 days, fined up to 300,000 renminbi, about $48,000, and investigated for “criminal liability.”
Another proposal, a draft national security law, says little about traditional security matters like defending the country’s borders, and instead stresses politics, ideology and culture. The president of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, Joerg Wuttke, told The Washington Post that the definition of national security is so vague and extensive it could apply to almost any activity.
|President Xi Jinping of China last week.
More than 40 American trade associations and lobbying groups, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, are so concerned about the proposed laws that they have written to China’s National People’s Congress, arguing that the laws could interfere with their ability to do business in China by impeding research, market development and information sharing.
Using words that should make China’s leaders pause, the business groups said the draft law on nongovernmental organizations could “inhibit our ability to effectively operate and contribute to China’s economy and consequently hinder China’s economic development.” The European Union, in a separate note, said China was using the law to “silence dissenting voices.” In all, as many as 1,500 governments and groups have written to the National People’s Congress to protest the proposed law, human rights activists say.
China’s president, Xi Jinping, has largely ignored the protests of international human rights groups as he pursues a crackdown on all political opposition. With his country desperate for growth and worried about an economic slowdown, he may find it harder to dismiss the complaints of international businesses that can play a crucial role in moving China forward.
A separate initiative to require foreign companies that sell computer equipment to Chinese banks to turn over their source code to the government and to create ways for security officials to control those devices has stalled after complaints earlier this year by American and other foreign business groups. It should be formally dropped.
Foreign businesses have an important role to play in challenging China’s authoritarian laws and they should continue pressing the world’s second-largest economy to adopt international standards of openness.