One of the international NGOs active in China organised a get-together of other organisations that have been monitoring Chinese investments abroad from an environmental or social perspective. It is a sign of the rapid changes in the past two years that some six organisations came to the meeting and gave brief presentations of what they do. There are some interesting points in common.
- The organisations (I hesitate to call them NGOs because their degrees of government affiliation vary, but they are all to some extent non-governmental) have all developed contacts with governments, civil organisations, and/or Chinese state corporations in the countries affected, transmit information to them about the way Chinese policy making operates, and in some cases offer them direct recommendations or environmental plans. One organisation has funded several research projects by Chinese scholars in Africa.
- There seem to be two common ways of lobbying the Chinese government or corporations. One is taking officials or researchers on study trips to the affected sites; this is expensive and, according to one participant, counts too much on the emotional impact of what they witness. What if they don’t change their minds? The other is working with Chinese academics who are positioned near official ears.
- The organisations continue to operate under the shadow of the “anaconda in the chandelier,” as Perry Link called the system of Chinese censorship. It is impossible to predict what activities might attract the displeasure of officials; in addition, the organisations have to navigate the complicated rivalries of Chinese academia. This means that a lot of information the organisations collect is never publicly released. The fact that I am not mentioning their names here means that I am being affected by the anaconda as well.