Xi watchers take note: the NYT reports on the increasingly strict controls the Chinese government is placing on “independent, civil society groups” (h/t Tyler Cowen). Profiled in the piece is the Transition Institute of Social and Economic Research, a think tank in Beijing that advocated for economic reforms but also “attracted advocates of democratic reform.” The government decided to crack down on the institute, seizing and detaining some of its employees and sending at least one into hiding. But the Transition Institute isn’t the only group threatened:
In recent months the government has moved against several groups, including one that fights discrimination against people with hepatitis B and even a volunteer network of 22 rural libraries […]
The Communist Party says charities and other grass-roots organizations can offer much-needed social services in a nation strained by poverty and urbanization, and the number of such organizations has grown. But the party is also wary of citizen activism that it cannot control, and groups must be sponsored by a state entity before registering as nonprofits. Like many others, the Transition Institute instead registered as a private business […]
“They help fill a need in Chinese society that the government recognizes,” he said. But that tolerance, he added, “can be taken away at a moment’s notice.”
We spot a hint of a “religion ghost” in this story; China’s crackdown on Christian churches, a key part of civil society, isn’t mentioned. Indeed, Beijing may hold the same equivocal attitude toward non-religious civic groups as it does toward Christians—on the one hand professing to value the social services they provide, and on the other fearing them as a source of dissent or even resistance. The Economist has agued that the Chinese government has not persecuted Christians as much as it might have precisely because of how important religious bodies are in helping to deliver social services.
One of the debates about Chinese persecution of Christians is whether it is as intense or serious as some reports early in Xi’s reign suggested. The Economist piece cited above, for example, claims that the persecution might be comparatively minor, with only .01 percent of the country’s Christians experiencing persecution. But if this crackdown continues to intensify, the number may be about to get higher.