In a July 15 article, The New York Times cited anonymous U.S. officials as saying that the Trump administration is considering a blanket ban on all 90 million members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which comes at a time when Washington is galvanizing its stance on the authoritarian regime.
Similar news was reported by The Wall Street Journal on July 16; according to the plans, the travel ban could also affect the family members of Party members for a total of 270 million people, or up to a fifth of the Chinese population. Other proposals are much more conservative, with one scheme targeting only the 25 members of the CCP Politburo.
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Michael Pillsbury, an informal China adviser to President Donald Trump, told the Journal that the travel ban would be “an important step in the direction that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been going in the last few months, to delegitimize the Communist Party and its 90 million members.”
Since last year, Pompeo and other top U.S. officials have stepped up ideologically charged criticism of the CCP regime, calling it out for its Marxist creed and Leninist political structure in addition to Beijing’s widespread human rights abuses.
Though the Trump administration has taken a hard line on the CCP since the publication of the 2017 National Security Strategy — which listed the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the primary strategic threat to the United States — Pompeo’s “China Challenge” speech delivered on Oct. 30, 2019, marked the beginning of policy statements from Washington singling out the CCP from the broader concept of the Chinese nation.
The ‘China Challenge’
On July 16, Attorney General William P. Barr delivered remarks echoing warnings from FBI director Christopher Wray about the threat of CCP espionage and influence operations in the United States. He also channeled Pompeo’s previous statements about the CCP’s goal of “international domination.”
According to Barr, how the United States responds to the “global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party” will have “historic implications and will determine whether the United States and its liberal democratic allies will continue to shape their own destiny or whether the CCP and its autocratic tributaries will control the future.”
“The CCP rules with an iron fist over one of the great ancient civilizations of the world. It seeks to leverage the immense power, productivity, and ingenuity of the Chinese people to overthrow the rules-based international system and to make the world safe for dictatorship,” Barr said.
Denying entry to communists
In the past decade, amid China’s political and economic instability, a growing number of CCP officials’ family members have immigrated to the United States and other Western countries, and transferred their assets overseas.
Many top Party officials also send their children to study abroad in the United States, such as Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s daughter, who graduated from Harvard University; Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s daughter, who studied at Harvard in the early 2010s; and Politburo standing committee member Wang Yang’s daughter, who graduated from Tufts University in Massachusetts.
If there is indeed a travel ban in the works, those family members may choose to return to China and reunite with the officials, while many Chinese students will have to give up on their hopes of studying abroad.
However, Chinese netizens were excited about the news, and urged the White House to launch this ban as soon as possible. On the social media platform Weibo, they expressed that the ban would stop corrupt officials from transferring their embezzled assets abroad, and prevent such officials from escaping China once they get in the regime’s crosshairs. Twitter is banned inside China, but many use firewall-circumventing software to access the platform.
“China suffered from corruption for decades. [The travel ban] is the specific medicine that we have waited for so long,” wrote Chinese netizen Baozi on Weibo on July 16, according to The Epoch Times.
The Tuidang movement
According to SinoInsider, a New York-based think tank, banning CCP members and their close relatives from traveling to the United States could have a profound impact on Chinese internal politics.
SinoInsider in a July 16 newsletter noted that under Xi Jinping, the CCP itself has been restricting its members from leaving the country or funneling assets abroad: At the “elite level, Xi’s travel restrictions are oftentimes a direct response to the intra-Party factional struggle and represent an effort to put his rivals under control and on notice”; while for the rank-and-file, such restrictions “appear to be aimed at addressing the problematic issue of CCP members voting with their feet as they lose confidence in the Party.”
“All in all, Xi’s travel restrictions allude to a serious crisis in the regime,” according to SinoInsider’s analysis.
“A sweeping travel ban on CCP members to the U.S. would immediately make Xi deeply unpopular among regular Party members who are already finding it hard to leave China. Regular CCP members could even reconsider their Party affiliation.”
The SinoInsider newsletter drew attention to the 16-year-old Tuidang (退黨), or “Quit the Party,” movement, which was started by practitioners of Falun Gong and their supporters to help Chinese symbolically withdraw from the CCP and its affiliated youth organizations. Since 2004, more than 360 million statements from people renouncing the Party have been registered on the Tuidang website.
According to web traffic statistics compiled by The Epoch Times, Chinese Internet searches for the keyword “tuidang” spiked following The New York Times report. A travel ban could spark more interest from Party members in the Tuidang movement, and even inspire “high-profile ‘defections’ to the United States that would embarrass the Xi leadership,” SinoInsider wrote.