The closing space for civil society has been well documented, but sometimes modern autocrats find it more convenient to manipulate civic space than to close it. Contemporary authoritarian regimes are refining a decades-old technique: the use of state-supported, state-friendly organizations to coopt and crowd-out authentic civil society. –
Part of the Chinese government’s wider effort to stifle independent civil society, including a draft law restricting the operation of foreign NGOs and requiring them to register with the government, is explained by The Wall Street Journal’s China Real Time blog:
Not satisfied with cracking down on foreign NGOs, the Party leadership has turned its attention to domestic NGOs as well… The Party has decided to establish party-organized groups (“PONGOs”) within domestic social, cultural and economic organizations. Formerly, all “social organizations” were allowed to establish Party groups, but now they will be required to do so.
These “PONGOs” would resemble “GONGOs”: Government-operated nongovernmental organizations. Moisés Naím summed up the phenomenon and sounded the alarm in Foreign Policy:
Behind this contradictory and almost laughable tongue twister lies an important and growing global trend that deserves more scrutiny: governments funding and controlling nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), often stealthily… Some [GONGOs] act as the thuggish arm of repressive governments. Others use the practices of democracy to subtly undermine democracy at home.
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