May 5, 2017 / 5:06 AM / 3 months ago

China tightens rules on private think tanks

3 Min Read

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has ordered private think tanks to register with the authorities, who will also keep tabs on research activity, under new rules published by state media, the ruling Communist Party's latest move to stamp its authority on intellectual bodies.

President Xi Jinping has overseen a drive to place the party back at the centre of China's media, academia and charities, while cracking down on civil society by detaining rights lawyers and reining in independent research bodies and publications.

Think tanks' objectives are to serve the Communist Party and aid government decision-making, says a copy of the rules issued jointly by nine government departments and released by the official Xinhua news agency late on Thursday.

Privately-run think tanks must register with the Ministry of Civil Affairs and a professional supervisory unit, said the document, which barred unregistered bodies from calling themselves think tanks.

"Possessing legal qualifications is an integral part of new-style think tanks with Chinese characteristics," it added.

Professional supervisory units should perform checks on think tanks registered with them and report to the authorities regulatory breaches such as unapproved foreign funding or contact or failures to carry out "party building," it added.

Think tanks looking to publish statistical analyses of government data must first consult China's bureau of statistics, under the new rules.

Those that fail to release information in a timely way, or to change leadership when ordered to do so by the Civil Affairs Ministry, will be placed on a public list of "abnormal" social enterprises, the rules say.

However, the officially titled "Guidelines for strengthening the building of new-style think tanks with Chinese characteristics," did not incorporate a date, leaving unclear whether they take immediate effect.

There is no official figure for the number of think tanks in China, but estimates range from 250 to 450 such groups.

Last year, China introduced two laws requiring registration by foreign non-government bodies and domestic charities, as well as extra checks with authorities, in the name of regulating the sector and protecting national security.

Foreign diplomats and rights activists have criticised the laws as being designed to stifle civil society and shutter groups considered a threat to party power.

In January, authorities took down the website of the Unirule Institute of Economics, a privately run think tank in Beijing that advocates free market policies, along with 16 other sites, citing "false" content and licensing issues, state media said at the time.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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