ArrowArtboardCreated with Sketch.Title ChevronTitle ChevronIcon FacebookIcon LinkedinIcon Mail ContactPath LayerIcon MailPositive ArrowIcon PrintIcon Twitter
International relations

Election seen behind Trump's possible Communist Party travel ban

Some Chinese social media users express support for proposal

U.S. President Donald Trump attends a news conference in Washington on July 14.    © Reuters

NEW YORK -- The Trump administration is reportedly considering an extensive ban that would keep Chinese Communist Party members and their families from traveling to the U.S.

The draft proposal could also allow the U.S. to revoke visas of such individuals who are already in the country, potentially affecting many people, according to The New York Times.

If implemented, the broadness of the Communist Party travel ban would make it the most provocative measure put in place against China by the Trump administration. Some experts believe that it aligns with President Donald Trump's campaign strategy for the 2020 presidential election, which is increasingly featuring a tough stance on China.

"It's like [China] banning all members of the Republican Party because they're angry at [Trump], that makes no sense," said Timothy Heath, a senior international defense researcher at U.S. think tank Rand Corporation. "It seemed a very provocative measure that is extremely difficult to enforce and does not appear to have much political logic behind it."

The presidential order would reportedly use the same statute in the Immigration and Nationality Act from the 2017 travel ban on several Muslim countries, which was debated in courts and expanded this year, according to the report this week in the U.S. newspaper. 

"A ban on the Politburo or one on the entire 90 million-strong membership would be a giant symbolic step and is the full extension of the 'blame China' campaign strategy suggested by some Republican consultants," said Clayton Dube, director of the U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California. "Any sort of ban on the Politburo let alone the wider membership might be satisfying to some Americans, but is unlikely to produce a positive change in Chinese policy or action."

Several scholars said that before getting into the justification of such a travel ban, it is impossible to implement because the U.S. does not hold a list of CCP members, let alone their relatives. If the administration directs custom agents to ask any Chinese visitor at airports and borders if they are or have family members that are members of the Communist Party, they could simply lie and the agents would have no way of verifying it. 

Dube pointed out that it is still too early to say if the ban would ever be implemented, as "being unworkable or counterproductive does not automatically get a proposal dismissed... especially in this administration."

Since early Thursday morning, Twitter has been packed with posts criticizing the broad proposal to ban all CCP members, which amounts to over 90 million people. Experts also argued that the majority of party members are not involved in lawmaking or the party's controversial actions such as its treatment of the Uighur population and its handling of Hong Kong. 

"90% of them are party members at very low levels, such as being a party member at a school, on a factory floor or local level official," said Heath. "It also includes a lot of businessmen who joined the party just for business reasons... This seems like a hammer trying to nail down a problem that's not a nail."

It is unclear how far discussions on the proposal have progressed or even if it is actually under serious consideration. The White House declined to confirm the report. 

But whatever the reality, analysts see November's presidential vote as the likely impetus.

"Trump doesn't care about China, he cares about getting reelected," said Andrew Nathan, a political science professor at Columbia University. "[On the other hand], if Biden comes in... He doesn't want a 100% Cold War with China... I think [he understands that] the U.S. [needs to] succeed in its competition with China. The key is not to constrain China, but it is for the U.S. to perform better, so we have to fix our own systems."

The Trump administration has attempted to send international students back to their home countries during the coronavirus pandemic, a move which it suddenly rescinded after many American universities and colleges filed lawsuits to stop it. The report on the possible travel ban comes as the U.S. continues to struggle with rising numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases, which neared 3.6 million as of Thursday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Official reaction to the report in China was harsh. Hua Chunying, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, on Thursday called any such travel ban "very pathetic."

"As the strongest power, what impression does it want to leave to the world except for hurling sanctions?" Hua said at a news conference. "We hope the U.S. will refrain from doing more things that disdain the basic norms governing international relations and undermine its reputation, credibility and status as a major country."

With the phase one trade deal between the U.S. and China yet to be fully implemented, tensions growing over China's treatment of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and the imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong, a policy such as a Communist Party travel ban would damage the two countries' relationship even further. Some scholars and pundits are already worrying that a new freezing in relations has begun. 

"It's a new cold war, but it's different from the old Cold War," said Nathan. "[The difference is] that there's a much more pressing need for cooperation on climate and global health."

Nathan also said that in the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union, Moscow wanted to take over the world and spread its socialist ideology and system, while that is not China's aim. American and Chinese societies still conduct a lot of exchanges, both economic, cultural and educational. 

On Weibo, the tightly controlled Chinese version of Twitter, some users actually expressed support for the travel ban on all CCP members and their families, even urging Trump to implement it, indicating what appeared to be a degree of cynical frustration with the all-powerful party.

"If this proposal gets passed, the U.S. will accomplish something that the Chinese surveillance department always wanted to do. There will be no impact to CCP," said one user with a Weibo VIP badge, similar to Twitter's blue badge.

"Great! Implement it immediately! Some high-ranking CCP officials send their children abroad to get foreign citizenship and live in prosperity themselves in mainland. Curb that! Trump, I will look down on you if you don't pass this proposal!" said another VIP user. 

But the reported draft proposal has also strengthened some users' belief that staying in China is the right choice, with numerous posts of a patriotic nature also visible on Weibo.

Dube said that even if the Trump administration tries to couch any such ban as not being aimed at China the country and its ordinary citizens, such a strategy is unlikely to be effective.

"Such a policy, especially if it were somehow to include relatives, would signal to many Chinese that what propagandists in China have long said is true: The U.S. is insecure and committed to doing everything it can to stymie China's rise," he said.

Sponsored Content

About Sponsored Content This content was commissioned by Nikkei's Global Business Bureau.

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this monthThis is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia;
the most dynamic market in the world.

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia

Get trusted insights from experts within Asia itself.

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 1 month for $0.99

You have {{numberArticlesLeft}} free article{{numberArticlesLeft-plural}} left this month

This is your last free article this month

Stay ahead with our exclusives on Asia; the most
dynamic market in the world

Get trusted insights from experts
within Asia itself.

Try 3 months for $9

Offer ends October 31st

Your trial period has expired

You need a subscription to...

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers and subscribe

Your full access to Nikkei Asia has expired

You need a subscription to:

  • Read all stories with unlimited access
  • Use our mobile and tablet apps
See all offers
NAR on print phone, device, and tablet media

Nikkei Asian Review, now known as Nikkei Asia, will be the voice of the Asian Century.

Celebrate our next chapter
Free access for everyone - Sep. 30

Find out more