China defends foreign NGO law, says still being revised

BEIJING (Reuters) - China needs more time to revise a draft law governing foreign non-government organizations, the parliamentary spokeswoman said on Friday, defending the need for such legislation despite widespread international criticism.

Military delegates arrive at the Great Hall of the People for a meeting ahead of Saturday's opening ceremony of the National People's Congress (NPC), in Beijing, China March 4, 2016. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

The law comes amid a crackdown on dissent by President Xi Jinping’s administration which has detained and jailed activists and blamed “foreign forces”, including foreign NGOs, for the pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong in late 2014.

Speaking ahead of the opening of the annual session of parliament, spokeswoman Fu Ying defended China’s justification for the law.

“We still have to deal with various recommendations and opinions in order to revise this law well,” said Fu, adding that there were now around 7,000 foreign NGOs working in China.

The draft law, which has triggered a storm of criticism from countries including the United States, Canada and the European Union, requires foreign non-profit organizations to find official sponsors, typically a government-backed agency, and gives broad latitude to the police to regulate activities and funding.

“We need specialized laws to govern this area of activity,” Fu told reporters in the Great Hall of the People.

“We need to clearly specify which activities are illegal or prohibited. Mostly we are trying to provide a more standardized legal environment, not trying to restrict foreign NGOs from conducting beneficial activities in China.”

On China’s crackdown on human rights lawyers, Fu said that while China considered lawyers an “important force”, they needed to respect the constitution.

China has arrested scores of human rights lawyers across the country and tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing the need to buttress national security and stability.

China consistently rejects any criticism of its human rights record, saying it adheres to the rule of law.

Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie