cd: What do you see as the main differences between environmental NGOs in China and their counterparts overseas?
HP: There are a few differences. The first is influence. NGOs in other countries have a great influence on environmental legislation and nature conservation, and have a direct influence on decisions about major projects. That isn’t yet the case for Chinese NGOs. Second, there is a difference in membership numbers and public support. In the United States, large environmental NGOs like the Sierra Club have over one million members and can mobilise on a large scale for major events. But, excluding industry associations, the largest Chinese NGO has about 10,000 members and limited public participation and support. Third, there is a difference in funding. Large American NGOs have budgets approaching US$100 million. In China, only a few approach US$1 million and many do not have any regular funding. Domestic funding channels are too limited, and there is little in the way of public donations.
Update: here is an activist's perspective from Wen Bo.
CNN: Should more environmental groups register officially with the Chinese government as these "official non-government organizations"?
Wen: Chinese [citizens] are interested in supporting these charitable efforts, but they lack the proper channels, so they don't know where to donate their funding, to donate their actual money to support a charitable cause. So often these types of resources are mostly channeled into government-organized NGOs.
I don't think real independent NGOs should have to register because there are so many barriers. Of course, if they can get that legal status that's the best, but they should not sacrifice their independence for the legitimacy within the Chinese system, because the system itself is not designed to support independent groups.