US weighs sweeping travel ban on Chinese Communist Party members

The Trump administration is considering a sweeping ban on travel to the United States by members of the Chinese Communist Party 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 authorize the United States 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 United States by members of the People’s Liberation Army and executives at state-owned enterprises, though many of them are likely to also be party members.

Details of the plan, described by four people with knowledge of the discussions, have not yet been finalized, and President Trump might ultimately reject it. 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 criticized 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 Chinese Communist Party has 92 million members. Almost three million Chinese citizens visited the United States in 2018, though the numbers have plummeted because of the coronavirus pandemic and the current ban on most travelers from China. The U.S. 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 United States 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 U.S. 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 United States since the start of the trade war between the two countries in 2018. It would further poison U.S.-China relations, even after several years of open clashes over economics, technology and global influence have led some diplomats and analysts to draw comparisons to a new Cold War.

Officials at the White House, State Department and Department of Homeland Security have been involved in the discussion over the ban. Spokesmen for the White House National Security Council and the State Department declined to comment on Wednesday, and one for the Department of Homeland Security did not return a request for comment.

Officials at those agencies also continue to debate a variety of formulations for banning Chinese travel to the United States 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 Chinese Communist Party, 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.

The Communist Party is both a powerful and mundane part of life in China. While its leaders maintain control of domestic and foreign policy, those on lower rungs do everything from supervising schools to managing neighborhood-level governance. In recent decades, many citizens joined to get a leg up in a wide range of sectors: business, academia and even the arts. Many party members do not conform to official ideology; some are Christians who attend underground churches, for example.

Many Chinese outside the party praise the top leadership but complain about corruption among local officials.

Counting party members as well as their families, the ban could technically bar travel to the United States for as many as 270 million people, according to one internal administration estimate. (Courtesy New York Times)