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Western governments criticize China's new law on foreign NGOs

The US and German governments have said they oppose new legislation that will give Beijing more power over NGOs. Some call the move another example of Chinese President Xi Jinping's suppression of dissent.

The Chinese government passed the law on Thursday despite criticism over what many consider overly vague stipulations regarding foreign NGOs in the country.

The legislation grants China the power to question NGO workers, shut down their offices and regulate their finances - if officials decide the NGO "damages national interests."

"If there are foreign NGOs - holding high the banner of cooperation and exchange - coming to engage in illegal activities or even committing criminal acts, our Ministry of Public Security should stop it, and enact punishments," said government official Guo Linmao, according to AFP news agency.

Open questions

Many international observers - including the US government - have expressed concern over the vagueness of the new law.

"The United States is deeply concerned that China's new Law on the Management of Foreign NGO Activities will further narrow space for civil society in China," said the US National Secuity Council's spokesman in a statement.

John Kerry also tweeted his concerns over the law.

Amnesty International

said the law gave authorities too much power, and that it will "ultimately stifle civil society."

The German Embassy in Beijing also issued a statement criticizing the legislation. "The law continues to focus strongly on security and contains numerous approval and documentation requirements, as well as other norms restricting activities," it said.

The People's Congress

The National People's Congress approved the new law on NGOs on Thursday

Crackdown on dissent?

An earlier draft of the NGO law had drawn fierce condemnation from foreign observers, and although Beijing did modify it, much of the vagueness of the original version remained intact in the legislation passed by the parliament.

Its passage has led to renewed concern that President Xi Jinping is quashing dissent. Beijing

had already drawn criticism

for recent counterterrorism and cyber security laws that critics warn are signs of a growing authoritarianism.

The NGO law is due to go into effect on January 1 of next year.

blc/gsw (AFP, Reuters)

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