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China passed a law on Thursday subjecting foreign nongovernmental organizations to increased regulation and police supervision, according to Chinese and international media reports. The law, which requires foreign NGOs to register their activities with police and public security agencies, has attracted widespread concerns that it will further constrain the activities of civil society organizations in China and inhibit international cooperation in any number of areas, including science and academe.

The impact of the new law on foreign educational institutions remains unclear. An earlier draft of the law defined foreign NGOs broadly, leading many to worry that university exchanges of all kinds could potentially be affected. The Chinese state media outlet Xinhua reported Thursday that the new and final draft of the law specifies that “exchanges and cooperation between Chinese and overseas colleges, hospitals, and science and engineering research institutes will follow existing regulations” -- rather than the new NGO law -- but experts said that greater clarity is needed before the impact of the law is known. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Mark Sidel, the Doyle-Bascom Professor of Law and Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a consultant with the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, said via email that "the new law indicates that certain academic exchanges and cooperation will be regulated by existing rules, not by this new law. But that raises as many questions as it answers: What academic exchanges and cooperation would come under other existing rules, and what academic, scholarly and research programs in China would come within this new law? None of that is at all clear, and must await clarification from Chinese authorities."

"Until -- and likely after -- that clarification occurs, the road ahead for academic and research exchanges and cooperation with Chinese institutions remains anxious and clouded because of this new law, despite the general attempt to indicate that certain activities will be governed by other existing rules," Sidel said.