China charity law to forbid activity that 'endangers national security'

BEIJING (Reuters) - A new law on charities in China being discussed at this year's parliamentary session would ban aid groups from sponsoring activities that threaten national security, a summary of the draft of the legislation released on Wednesday shows. While such activity would almost certainly already be illegal under various laws, the specific mention of national security in the law regulating charities could give authorities greater latitude in taking action against them. The new law comes against a backdrop of a broad crackdown on civil society groups in China. "Charities shall not carry out or sponsor any activity that endangers national security or public interests," Li Jianguo, vice chairman of the standing committee of the National People's Congress, China's parliament, said in an explanation of the law. He did not elaborate on what might constitute endangering national security. Foreign and domestic non-governmental groups have largely praised the law, which loosens restrictions on fundraising and heightens transparency requirements for charities to combat fraud. But critics have said some of the language in the law, which is the first to regulate domestic non-profit groups, leaves room for abuse when it comes to implementation. Charities found to be undermining national security would be punished or have their registrations revoked in serious cases, the official Xinhua news agency reported. China has arrested scores of human rights lawyers and tightened control over almost every aspect of civil society since 2012, citing the need to buttress national security and stability. Western governments and non-profit groups have pressured China to revise a second proposed law that would regulate foreign non-governmental organizations. That law would give police broad powers to regulate their activities and funding. (Reporting by Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Robert Birsel)