With diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing fraught on a host of issues—including trade, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, tit-for-tat policies aimed at restricting press access, Hong Kong’s special economic status following Beijing’s imposition of a national security law, and responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic—the Trump administration is reportedly considering a travel ban on Chinese Communist Party members. The draft presidential order cites the same statute used by the Trump administration for the ban on entry for citizens of several predominantly Muslim countries in 2017. At The New York Times, Paul Mozur and Edward Wong report, noting President Trump’s mixed signals on China and questions about the feasibility of such an order:
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 overwhelming majority of C.C.P. 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 Jude Blanchette, a China scholar at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “Such a move would inflame public opinion in China, as this would target nearly 10 percent of the entire Chinese population and would do so based on blanket assertions of guilt.” [Source]
News of the draft travel ban comes a day after Secretary of State of Pompeo announced visa restrictions for employees of Chinese tech companies including Huawei. The day prior, Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law, officially ending the territory’s preferential trade treatment and sanctioning officials and businesses deemed responsible for the security crackdown in Hong Kong. Last week, the U.S. announced new Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against unprecedentedly high-ranking CCP officials deemed responsible for the ongoing ethnic crackdown in Xinjiang. For information on current U.S. bans on green cards and citizenship for CCP members see a blogpost from Chodorow Immigration Law.
Another New York Times report takes a closer look at the ubiquity of Party membership in China. The Times’ Mozur notes that a majority of the 92 million CCP members often aren’t the “stolid apparatchiks of the Communist stereotype,” and highlights the far-reaching effects of banning all CCP members from entering the U.S.:
Blocking the party members would not only turn off an economic spigot for the United States, but also plunge the relationship between the world’s two largest economies into a new phase of deeper isolation. Who are the members of the Communist Party? Here’s what we know.
[While some members are indeed those responsible for harsh crackdowns, global propaganda, and invasive surveillance campaigns …,] voices of dissent have also come from the party. Dr. Li Wenliang, who sounded the alarm online about a mysterious virus that emerged in China and was interrogated by the police for his trouble before dying of Covid-19, was a party member.
[…] For those not at the top rungs of power, membership in the party is often a way to fuel one’s career by making the right connections. During the boom years from the 1980s to the early 2010s, many Chinese joined the party to get a leg up in business, academics and the arts.
[…] If even Beijing is struggling to track the 92 million party members and their families, it’s not clear that the United States could do a much better job if it decides to carry out its travel ban. Experts cautioned that the draft ban would be all but impossible to enforce on a wide scale. [Source]
Dr Li Wenliang, the covid whistleblower, was a CCP member.
So was Ilham Tolti, the jailed Uyghur scholar awarded the 2019 Sakharov Prize.
— Jun Mai (@Junmai1103) July 16, 2020
When I asked my Uyghur mentor-who was/is adamantly against the CCP's policies in his homeland (so much so he left China)-he replied "when it rains, it's good to have an umbrella." People join the CCP for career advancement, protection & many other reasons https://t.co/5i6wcEaBpK
— Timothy Grose (@GroseTimothy) July 16, 2020
See also “Communism is a Faith,” a 2019 report from Yangyang Cheng at SupChina outlining the “complex reality” of incentives facing the Chinese people, who are “victimized by an oppressive system but also contributing to their own oppression by becoming part of the system.”
Mozur’s report also noted that after a swell in membership during the Hu Jintao administration, a decline in growth has come under Xi Jinping’s tenure, which has emphasized Party loyalty and has tightened the selection process. At Marco Polo, Neil Thomas analyzes the trends in CCP recruitment over the Hu and Xi eras:
Looking at recruitment figures, the number of new CCP members plummeted from 3.2 million in 2012 to 2.4 million in 2013. It then fell to as low as 1.9 million in 2016 before rebounding to 2.3 million in 2019 (see Figure 2). Total membership rose from 85.1 million in 2012 to 91.9 million last year, indicating that a record 6.6% of the Chinese population are CCP members.
[…] Many believe the pre-Xi swell of the CCP—which now has more members than Germany does citizens—resulted from people flocking to the Party because membership brought economic benefits such as higher wages and faster promotions. But Xi took a dim view—he wanted loyalists, not opportunists— and warned that “We do not want even one of those people who are politically unqualified and want to sneak into the Party to fish for profits.”
Xi instead sought to heighten the expectations made of Party members through a sweeping anti-corruption campaign and ideological crusade for “iron discipline.” The Party’s internal watchdog punished 130% more members for violating Party disciplinein Xi’s first term than in Hu’s final term. Its members must now devote more time to study and meetings, new burdens that may have contributed to lower demand for Party membership (see next section).
[…] Xi made acceptance even harder. His exhortation to “improve quality” in the CCP means stricter membership requirements, including not only enhanced training, education, management, and discipline of current members, but also greater scrutiny of lower-level recruitment. These new actions are outlined in the 2014 Detailed Rules noted above. [Source]