BEIJING — China is moving closer this week to a new law that would strictly control thousands of foreign nongovernmental organizations in the country, state-run news agencies reported Monday.
Officials are expected to give rapid approval to what may be the final draft of the law, the reports said.
Foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations denounced two earlier drafts, saying their wording implied that the Chinese government viewed such groups as potential criminal organizations.
Critics said the proposed restrictions would lead to groups’ curtailing important work in China, such as legal assistance and programs promoting the rule of law.
The White House issued a statement in September saying there were concerns that the law would “further narrow space for civil society in China.”
US officials urged the Chinese government to drop or make drastic revisions to the legislation, as well as to other sweeping draft security laws that would limit or hobble foreign operations in China, including businesses.
The third and possibly final draft of the law has not been published for public review. A report Monday by Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said the draft had just been submitted to a session of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, a body set up to approve Communist Party policy.
The report said a committee had suggested that the law would be put up for a vote after two readings at the current session, which ends Thursday.
Xinhua said some changes from the second draft meant there would be fewer restrictions. For example, it said, the new draft would allow foreign nongovernmental organizations to have more than one office in China. But the number and locations of offices would need approval by regulators.
In addition, the current draft would require such groups to disclose how they spent all their funding and to publicly report all the activities they supported.
Starting with the first draft, the most onerous proposed restriction has been a requirement that each foreign nongovernmental organization must register with the police, or Ministry of Public Security, and must find an official partner group in China willing to take responsibility for all the actions of the organization.
The language subjecting the foreign groups to oversight by the police is likely to remain in the final version, according to a report by Global Times, a state-run newspaper. That would affect more than 7,000 groups operating in China.
Xinhua said one notable change in the new draft was a phrase giving examples of foreign groups that would be regulated by the law.
The new draft says the law would apply to groups “such as foundations, social groups or think tanks,” the news agency reported. Exchanges with academic groups, schools and hospitals would be handled according to the “relevant provisions of national law.”
Critics said earlier drafts were so broadly worded that any foreign university or educational group trying to work or hold activities in China would be subject to the new law and police oversight. Xinhua implied that might not be the case, but the wording was vague.
China has not previously had rules allowing for official registration of foreign nongovernmental organizations, forcing many to operate in a legal gray area here.