Human rights and governance

8 - General openness of China on civil society exchanges

Grade: C-
Unity 2/5
Resources 3/5
Outcome 2/10
Total 7/20

The EU spends money on civil society exchanges yet has no guiding principles and no coordination – and therefore a higher score for resources than unity. Outcome is hard to assess.

Europeans would like to enhance informal and free exchange with civil society in China: the reality is often stage-managed events and handpicked Chinese participants. The EU devotes considerable resources to such exchanges, but most of this comes from public funding – with some exceptions, European foundations and NGOs are much weaker than their American counterparts. However, the unity of Europeans is difficult to assess on this topic because of the varied engagement between state and civil society.

Examples of civil society exchanges in 2010 include an EU-China Civil Society Forum and the High-Level Cultural Forum with Chinese philosophers and European counterparts. In 2010, work also began to prepare the EU-China Year of Youth that starts in 2011. However, the official nature of such EU programmes increases the likelihood that they are also managed or controlled on the Chinese side by official counterparts. German foundations stand out for their presence in China.

On university education, there is more openness, and Europe’s combined level of attraction is high for Chinese students. But although the informal academic exchange route has created a large contingent of Chinese students in Europe, the EU has absolutely no guiding principles on this. Ideally, the EU and European NGOs or universities would move to a situation where they have more freedom of choice and genuine engagement with larger sectors of the Chinese civil society instead of semi-official NGOs in China.