Stanley's blog

This note is based on Jason Tower’s article in China Review, summer 2009.

Civil society is developing well in China. There are tens of thousands of ‘NGO’s.

Chinese official activity in all realms of international society is ubiquitous. However, Chinese civil society organisations are notably absent on the international scene. This creates difficulties for China, its image and its relations with the rest of the world.

While western organisations engage local grassroots civil society actors and public opinion leaders, Chinese civil society representatives are few and far between. Thus, China is one of the primary international actors in Cambodia, but there are no Chinese civil society organisations to interact with, eg to help reduce tensions in times of conflict.

This absence leaves many western actors ignorant of current developments within China and uninformed on critical issues. They might act differently towards China if they were better informed. Chinese civil society can bring to developing countries knowledge and experience in ways that the government and state-backed media cannot.

In the developing world, local civil society actors are in contact with western organisations which are frequently critical of China. When problems arise, eg with aspects of the Chinese presence in Africa, such groups turn mainly to largely western international organisations for advice and assistance. The have little contact with their Chinese counterparts and their views are often ill-informed.

Many Americans and Europeans have negative views of China and such views feed into civil society organisations in third countries. This in turn influences western leaders who have to respond to their electorates.

The experience of Chinese organisations is frequently more relevant to developing countries than western experience.

While there may be worries that an overactive civil society could have implications for domestic stability, civil society can play an important role internationally.

It is unfortunate that western public opinion and civil society leaders know so little about China and Chinese points of view. We all live in an interconnected world. Chinese civil society should interconnect internationally.

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