Children read donated books during a charity event in a kindergarten for the children of migrant workers on the outskirts of Beijing, May 2011.
Jason Lee / Files / REUTERS

China’s new law on foreign nongovernmental organizations, passed in late April, will regulate how such groups operate for the first time in the country’s history. When the Overseas NGO Management Law goes into effect in January 2017, nearly 10,000 groups in China will have to register with the Chinese police and find domestic groups willing to partner with them. Some will not be able to stay in the country; others will voluntarily depart rather than try to navigate the stricter rules.

Chinese officials have long regarded civil-society groups with suspicion. The overseas NGO law, however, should not be viewed as simply a government move to clamp down on that sector. Along with a domestic charity law that China passed in February, the NGO measure is a symbolic attempt to raise China’s global status and to strengthen domestic charities working on issues approved by Beijing.

China’s leaders want foreign

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