U.S. 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.

And on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced a ban on some employees of Chinese technology companies, including Huawei, that “provide material support to regimes engaging in human rights abuses globally.”

He added, “Telecommunications companies around the world should consider themselves on notice: If they are doing business with Huawei, they are doing business with human rights abusers.”

Despite Mr. Trump’s admiration for Mr. Xi, national security officials have tried to push tough policies on China that are designed to counter what they view as dangerous expansionist actions by Chinese leaders and agencies. The pandemic and Beijing’s recent actions on Hong Kong have helped push relations between the two nations to the lowest point in decades.

At the same time, some of Mr. Trump’s top economic advisers have promoted a softer approach to China, warning of further damage to the world economy and falling stock markets. Those advisers and allies among American executives are likely to oppose a broad visa ban on Communist Party members, some of whom do business with American corporations.

A broad ban would give the State Department new powers to block top Chinese political and business leaders and their families from entering the United States. (Mr. Xi’s daughter, Xi Mingze, attended Harvard University under a pseudonym several years ago.) It would also allow the department to formalize a process by which American officials could inquire about party status during visa application interviews and on forms. Under the draft proclamation, the Department of Homeland Security would share responsibility for carrying out the ban.

Several Chinese citizens who have traveled to the United States in recent years said they did not recall any questions on visa applications asking if they were party members.

Language in the draft proclamation stresses recent egregious behavior by China, in particular theft of intellectual property by Chinese state actors and so-called exit bans used by security officials to prevent some U.S. citizens from leaving China. This month, the State Department renewed a travel warning, saying the Chinese authorities engaged in “arbitrary enforcement of local laws for purposes other than maintaining law and order,” which could include “detention and the use of exit bans.”

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