WASHINGTON • The Trump administration is considering a sweeping ban on travel to the United States by members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and their families, according to people familiar with the proposal – a move that would almost certainly prompt retaliation against Americans seeking to enter or remain in China and exacerbate tensions between the two nations.
The presidential proclamation, still in draft form, could also authorise the US government to revoke the visas of party members and their families who are already in the country, leading to their expulsion. Some proposed language is also aimed at limiting travel to the US by members of the People’s Liberation Army and executives at state-owned enterprises, although many of them are also likely to be party members.
Details of the plan, described by four people with knowledge of the discussions, have not yet been finalised, and President Donald Trump might ultimately reject it.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told reporters during a daily briefing yesterday that such a ban, if true, would be “pathetic”.
While the President and his campaign strategists have been intent on portraying him as tough on China for re-election purposes, Mr Trump has vacillated wildly in both his language and actions on the Chinese government since taking office in 2017. He has criticised China on some issues, particularly trade. But he has also lavished praise on President Xi Jinping, pleaded with Mr Xi to help him win re-election and remained silent or even explicitly approved of the repression in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
There are practical issues as well. The CCP has 92 million members. Almost three million Chinese citizens visited the US in 2018, although the numbers have plummeted because of the coronavirus pandemic and the current ban on most travellers from China. The US government has no knowledge of party status for a vast majority of them. So trying to immediately identify party members to either prevent their entry or expel those already in the US would be difficult.
The presidential order would cite the same statute in the Immigration and Nationality Act used in a 2017 travel ban on a number of predominantly Muslim countries that gives the president power to temporarily block travel to the US by foreign nationals who are deemed “detrimental to the interests of the United States”.
The 2017 ban was fought in the courts and expanded this year.
Such a broad ban would be the most provocative action against China by the US since the start of the trade war between the two countries in 2018. It would further poison US-China relations, worsening several years of open clashes over the economy, technology and global influence that have led some diplomats and analysts to draw comparisons to a new Cold War.
Officials are also debating a variety of formulations for banning Chinese travel to the US short of barring all party members, such as targeting only the 25 members of the ruling Politburo and their families.
In recent months, top administration officials have tried to draw a distinction between party members and other Chinese, saying the party must be punished for its actions – and its global ambitions must be thwarted. They have loudly denounced what they call the evils of the CCP, pointing to the role of its officials in the cover-up of the initial coronavirus outbreak, the detentions of one million or more Muslims in internment camps and the dismantling of civil liberties in Hong Kong.
Such a move would inflame public opinion in China, as this would target nearly 10 per cent of the entire Chinese population and would do so based on blanket assertions of guilt.
MR JUDE BLANCHETTE, a China scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, referring to the potential travel ban.
Counting party members as well as their families, the ban could technically bar travel to the US for as many as 270 million people, according to one internal administration estimate.
“The overwhelming majority of CCP members have no involvement or input into Beijing’s policymaking, so going after the entire party membership is like China sanctioning all Republicans because of frustrations with Trump,” said Mr Jude Blanchette, a China scholar at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.