Anja Ketels

Anja Ketels
© ketels
Anja Ketels
Graduate School of Politics
Scharnhorststraße 100
48151 Muenster
  • Project

    NGOs in China's Foreign Policy (working title)

    Since the 1980s, civil society actors have emerged as important forces in the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Engaged in a variety of policy fields, ranging from the provision of social services to international activities, these actors are defined as "organizations (formal or informal), private, self-governed, non-compulsory and totally or significantly limited from distributing any surplus they earn to investors, members, or others” (Salamon and Sokolowski 2014: 18). Internationally, they are referred to as nonprofit, non-government or third sector organizations while in China the term social organizations (社会组织 shehuizuzhi) is more commonly used (Yu 2006). In this work, I refer to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as this term is common and accepted to describe these organizations in an international context, both in China and internationally.
    In China, NGOs have assisted the country´s development and supported initiatives of decentralization, but also challenged state-centered decision-making and sought participation and representation. The party-state met these developments with ambivalence. On the one hand, NGOs have been tolerated for the benefits and opportunities they bring; on the other hand, they challenge the authoritarian system. Gradually and particularly starting with the Xi Jinping administration in 2013, the party-state has introduced more rigid regulatory measures for civil society actors. At the same time, it has started to involve NGOs in governance processes and to channel the productivity of the organizations into narrowly confined and strictly regulated areas (Wang and Kang 2018). The recent developments for civil society actors in China can be summarized into three tendencies: The channeling of private wealth to public welfare, the reform and integration of the organizations in social governance and the promotion of international diplomacy with an acknowledgment of the significance of NGOs in this field (Wang and Kang 2018: 1). This project takes the third tendency, the NGO factor in China’s international diplomacy, into consideration to shed light on the new roles of NGOs in China’s foreign policy. Alongside governments and the business sector, NGOs constitute a third player within international relations that plays a crucial role in globalization and international diplomacy (Rosenau 1995).
    In recent years, the traditionally largely state-centered international relations of the PRC made place to a more diversified approach to foreign policy, which includes considerations to involve multiple actors, soft power ambitions and a sense of responsibility for global matters (Chan 2017). This development is mirrored in a rapidly growing public and political Chinese discourse on the engagement in global governance. In the Chinese foreign policy debate, this discourse is where the international engagement of NGOs in China receives particular attention (Han and Ye 2017). They are perceived as important facilitators of soft power and their significance in international relations is widely acknowledged. The discourse is based on the fundamental ideas of global governance - the global management of global problems, the involvement of multiple actors and the implementation of cooperative action in formal as well as informal ways -; however, it adapts them to the special Chinese context and seeks to develop a special kind of global governance with Chinese characteristics.
    Against this background, the objective of the research project is to analyze the roles and functions of NGOs in China’s foreign policy and particularly in its global governance approach. In China, debates on international relations refer to NGOs in the overall context of the country´s engagement in global governance. In my research, I specifically focus on the involvement of NGOs based in China in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the key foreign policy project of the PRC. The BRI will serve as an explanatory case study for NGO involvement in the global governance strategy of the PRC. With a focus on a selected number of NGOs, it will be analyzed how, in terms of intensions, goals and practical measures (e.g. funding), the Chinese government incorporates the organizations in the BRI as strategic foreign policy approach, and it will be investigated how and in which way the inclusion of the selected NGOs in a strategy of an autocratic regime impacts the organizations.

    The research project works with the following hypotheses, which will be verified and/or falsified throughout the project:

    • China´s foreign policy is based on a Chinese version of the global governance approach of International Relations.
    • Within this context, NGOs and their involvement in foreign policy initiatives have recently gained importance in the PRC that tries to make use of the specificities of NGOs.
    • Roles and functions of NGOs involved in China’s foreign policy must be understood in the context of an autocratic regime with high regulatory requirements. This might lead a) to the set-up of control and supervision measures from the side of government (top-down perspective) and b) to a streamlining of the involved NGOs with respect to their mission, vision and governance (bottom-up perspective).

    From a methodological point of view, the research project refers to both International Relations with a focus on global governance and to civil society/third sector research with special reference to its organizational dimension.

    Two overall research questions guide this study:

    1. How are NGOs involved China’s foreign policy?
    2. What are the functions of NGOs in China’s foreign policy?

    To answer these research questions, I will first analyze the Chinese global governance discourse with a special focus on the roles and functions of NGOs and identify its dispositifs. The explanative case study of NGOs based in China and their involvement in the BRI subsequently serves to examine and explain the concrete roles and functions of selected NGOs in this foreign policy strategy.


    • Chan, Gerald (2017), 'China and global governance - evolving approaches', in Hoo Tiang Boon (ed.), Chinese Foreign Policy Under Xi (Oxon and New York: Routledge), 161-173.
    • Han, Ruibo 韩瑞波, Ye, Juanli 叶娟丽 (2017), 国内全球治理的研究现状解读 -- 基于CNKI 的文献计量分析 [Global Governance Research in China: Current Situation and Future], 理论与改革[Theory and Reform], 2017, 62-73.
    • Rosenau, James N. (1995), ‘Governance in the Twenty-first Century’, Global Governance, 1 (1), 13-43.
    • Salamon, Lester M. and Sokolowski, Wojtek (2014), ‘The Third Sector in Europe: Towards a Consensus Conceptualization’, TSI Working Paper Series No. 2, Seventh Framework, European Union. Brussels: Third Sector Impact.
    • Wang, Qun and Kang, Xiaoguang (2018), 'China's Nonprofit Policymaking in the New Millenium', Nonprofit Policy Forum, 9 (1), 1-4.
    • Yu, Keping 俞可平 (2006), 中国公民社会:概念、分类与制度环境 [Civil Society in China: Concepts, Classification and Institutional Environment], 中国社会科学 [Social Sciences in China], 2006(1) 109-122.

  • Career

    2019 Member of the Graduate School of Politics (GraSP) at the University of Münster. Research Group: Civil Society.
    since 2018 Dissertation Project: NGOs in China's Foreign Policy (working title).
    2016-2019 Research Assistant at the Institute for Sinology of the Free University of Berlin under Prof. Dr. Katja Levy (Politics and Law of China).
    2015-2016 Research stay at Peking University, Peking, China.
    2014-2016 Master of Arts: Sinology (Major in social-science Sinology) at the Free University of Berlin.
    2012-2013 Research stay at Xi'an Jiaotong University, Xi'an, China.
    2010-2014 Bachelor of Arts: Sinology and Politics, Economy and Society (Social Science) at the Ruhr University Bochum.
    2009-2010 English teacher in China.
    2009 Abitur from the Otto-Hahn Gymnasium Göttingen.

  • Publications

    Publications and Conference Contributions

    • Outsourcing and Networking – Common Trends of Local State-NPO Cooperation in Germany and China (mit Katja Levy), LoGoSO Research Papers 13, 2019.
    • Conference Report: International Conference: Good Life, State and Society, Freie Universität Berlin, December 7-8, 2018 (with Judith Hollnagel), ASIEN, 2019, upcoming.
    • Migrant Integration as a Challenge for Local Governments and Social Organizations in China and Germany– Policy Traditions and Integration Measures in Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Berlin and Cologne, LoGoSO Research Papers 8, 2019.
    • Review: Jennifer Y. J. Hsu: State of Exchange: Migrant NGOs and the Chinese Government, VOLUNTAS, 1- 2, 2018.
    • Conference Report: Changing conceptions and practices of law and politics in Xi Jinping’s China, Joint conference of the King’s College London and the Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, May 23, 2017, ASIEN, 145, Oktober 2017.

    Lectures and Talks

    • 06/2019 | Workshop „Chinas Seidenstraßen-Initiative – Konzepte und Akteure“ at the Konfuzius Institute of the Free University of Berlin: Verbindungen zwischen Menschen in der BRI – die Rolle von NROs.
    • 01/2019 | Tagung der Nachwuchsgruppe der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Asienkunde: NGO Involvement in China’s Global Governance: Implicationsofthe Global GovernanceDiscourse.
    • 11/2018 | GEAS (Graduate School for East Asian Studies) Graduate Conference: "Invisibility and Institutions in East Asia”: NGO Involvement in China’s Global Governance: Implications of the Global Governance Discourse.
    • 01/2018 | Freie Universität Berlin (Vortragsreihe des Instituts für Chinastudien): Global Governance, INGOs and the Chinese Authoritarian State.
  • Further Information

    Research interests

    • Chinese Society and Politics
    • Civil Society in China
    • China's International Relations
    • Global Governance
    • State-Society Relations