China Shutters Nonprofit Newsletter

Chinese government officials recently ordered a stop to publication of “The China Development Brief.” This newsletter, read by many NGO representatives around the country, covers a range of human-rights topics, from AIDS to environmental issues. Founding editor, Nicholas Young, reports that his organization was under scrutiny in recent ears and suspects the closure is part of a broader political clampdown. Government officials have questioned members of other NGOs, such as the Ford Foundation. Furthermore, the threshold for what is deemed sensitive is higher than it once was. Shutting down the newsletter sends a strong message, especially to the foreign community living and working in China. For those in government power, the mere presence of NGOs represents an admission of problems in China and calls for change. – YaleGlobal

China Shutters Nonprofit Newsletter

Nicholas Zamiska
Tuesday, July 17, 2007

HONG KONG -- A widely read newsletter on Chinese development and human-rights issues has been shuttered after more than a decade by public security officials, according to the newsletter's founder, amid what observers say may be heightened scrutiny of foreign-funded nonprofit organizations working in the country.

Editors of the print and electronic editions of the China Development Brief have been told by Chinese government officials to stop publishing, according to Nicholas Young, the 52-year-old founding editor of the newsletter, which distributes about 5,000 printed copies bimonthly in Chinese as well as monthly electronic versions in English. The newsletter, which publishes articles on a broad swath of topics ranging from AIDS to poverty to environmental issues, is read widely by international nongovernmental organizations working in China.

"This is very significant," said Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher with Human Rights Watch. "You shut down this, this sends a very strong signal to the foreign community." Mr. Bequelin added that "the threshold for what is sensitive is really, really low -- lower than it was."

A dozen officials from the Beijing Municipality Public Security Bureau, the Beijing Municipality Statistical Bureau and the Beijing Municipality Cultural Marketing General Legal Implementation Team visited the newsletter's office in Beijing on July 4 and interviewed staff for about three hours before ordering the newsletter to stop publishing, according to Mr. Young.

A man who identified himself only as Mr. Yu at the administration office of the Beijing Municipality Statistical Bureau said he was unaware of the order. A person at the Beijing Municipality Public Security Bureau requested faxed questions and didn't immediately reply. The Beijing Municipality Cultural Marketing General Legal Implementation Team wasn't available for comment.

Mr. Young said that he didn't know what may have prompted the government to act now, adding that his organization has faced heightened official scrutiny for a couple of years. Mr. Young said he suspects the newsletter's closure could be part of a broader political clampdown in advance of China's Communist Party Congress, slated for the fall, a high-level meeting held every five years at which key leadership changes and policy initiatives are announced.

Issues such as AIDS and the degradation of China's environment can be touchy to Beijing. But Kenneth Fung, who heads the health and education programs in China for Oxfam in Hong Kong, said "there's nothing really sensitive, from my perspective, on most of the issues. And sometimes government officials were interviewed, and they tried to give a balanced view," he said, adding that Oxfam has funded the newsletter in the past. He said the newsletter, which is funded largely by subscription fees and NGOs, has been a touchstone for international aid organizations working in China.

Mr. Young, who was born in Zambia and raised in Britain, worked as a stringer in Malawi for the Financial Times before moving to China in 1995. He started publishing the newsletter in 1996.

Other international NGOs have recently faced heightened scrutiny, according to a person who has spoken with officials at several NGOs. Government officials have recently questioned the staff of the Ford Foundation, for instance, about the organization's activities in China, according to the person. A call to the Ford Foundation's office in Beijing rang unanswered Wednesday evening.

Zhou Yang in Beijing contributed to this article.

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