International Law

ABA initiative pulls out of Beijing amid uncertainty caused by law regulating foreign nonprofits

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A new Chinese law regulating foreign nonprofits took effect on Sunday, and there is uncertainty about how it will affect an ABA initiative and other nongovernmental organizations in the country.

It’s unclear how the new law will be enforced, though groups working on issues like human rights, legal reform and the rule of law may have the most difficult time surmounting the law’s obstacles, the New York Times reports. The initial uncertainty has led an ABA program to withdraw from the country even as it continues to seek approval for bar initiatives there.

The Chinese law requires foreign nonprofits to register with police; to find permissible Chinese sponsors; and to submit regular reports on their activities. Missing from a new list of permitted categories of assistance is the issue of human rights.

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing sent a notice in December warning that that U.S. citizens employed by or associated with nonprofits could face special scrutiny or penalties if they aren’t in compliance with the new law, the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) recently reported.

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative recently closed its office in Beijing and is moving its China program to Hong Kong. The ABA ROLI program facilitates relationships with Chinese legal reformers and provides training and support to Chinese lawyers.

ABA ROLI still hopes to register, but it will seek approval under the broader banner of the American Bar Association, according to Elizabeth Andersen, who is associate executive director of the ABA and director of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative.

“Our future registration will be as the American Bar Association and relate to all ABA activity in China,” Andersen said in a statement supplied to the ABA Journal. The registration will include all educational and professional exchange work undertaken by ABA ROLI, as well as conferences and programming for other ABA sections and entities, she said.

“The ABA has a long history of mutually beneficial professional exchange with Chinese legal counterparts,” Andersen said, “and we are hopeful that our registration will be granted and facilitate a continuation of these collaborations.”

Related article: “China puts foreign groups under police supervision and requires them to find Chinese sponsors”

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