China’s law on the Administration of Domestic Activities of Overseas Non-governmental Organizations (the Overseas NGO Law), which was passed by the Standing Committee of the NPC on April 28, 2016, became effective as of Jan 1, 2017. The Overseas NGO Law is the first state-level legislation governing overseas activities in China by non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The Scope of Overseas NGO and Overseas NGOs’ Activities in China

According to the Overseas NGO Law, overseas NGOs refer to foundations, social organizations, thinktanks, and other non-profit and non-governmental social organizations legally established overseas. It is also worth noting that the Overseas NGO Law excludes the cooperation between overseas and domestic schools, hospitals, natural science, and engineering technology research institutions and academic organizations from the scope of application of this law, and states that such cooperation shall be governed by the relevant regulations of the PRC, although such regulations are not yet in place.

Under the Overseas NGO Law, overseas NGOs may conduct activities conducive to public welfare undertakings in China, provided that these activities do not jeopardize China’s national unity, security, and national solidarity, nor damage China’s national interest, social public interests, and citizens’ and entities’ legitimate rights and interests. In addition, overseas NGOs are not allowed to engage in or fund profit-making activities, political events in China, or illegally engage in or fund religious activities in China.

Registration and Record-Filing

The Overseas NGO Law has set up a clear regulatory framework for overseas NGOs, under which there are two approaches for overseas NGOs to enter into China. First, overseas NGOs shall carry out activities in China through their representative offices registered in China. Overseas NGOs shall register their representative offices by applying to the designated Public Security Authorities in China. More importantly, overseas NGOs are required to seek approval from the corresponding Chinese authorities that regulate the overseas NGOs’ fields or industries before making applications to the Public Security Authorities. This approval is a prerequisite to the registration of overseas NGOs’ offices.

Second, if an overseas NGO needs to carry out temporary activities (typically one-off events) in China without first establishing a representative office, it must coordinate with its Chinese partner which must be a governmental entity, mass organization, public institution, or social organization in China. The coordination shall be evidenced by a written agreement between the overseas NGO and its Chinese partner. The Chinese partner shall process filing for the temporary activities at the designated Public Security Authorities no later than 15 days prior to conducting them.

Guidelines Released Along With the Overseas NGO Law

In December 2016, the Ministry of Public Security released a guideline concerning the registration and filing process (the MPS Guideline) along with a list specifying the corresponding authorities entitled to regulate the fields or industries to which the overseas NGOs belong (the MPS List). The MPS Guideline provides detailed and clear guidance on what documents are needed for registering representative offices, passing annual inspection of representative offices, and filing temporary activities in the absence of a representative office. The MPS List makes it clear which Chinese authorities the overseas NGOs should get approval from before establishing representative offices. For example, if the American Bar Association wants to set up a representative office in China, it has to first obtain approval from the Ministry of Justice of PRC or its provincial branches which regulate the legal service industry in China.

- Law of the People's Republic of China on the Administration of Domestic Activities of Overseas Nongovernmental Organizations

- 《中华人民共和国境外非政府组织境内活动管理法》

- Issuing authority: Standing Committee of the NPC

- Date of issuance: April 28, 2016 - Effective date: Jan. 1, 2017