July 16, 2020 / 5:17 PM / a month ago

U.S. targets Chinese Communist Party members in possible travel ban: source

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is considering banning travel to the United States by all members of the Chinese Communist Party and their families, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday, an idea that China dismissed as absurd.

Senior officials discussing the matter had begun circulating a draft of a possible presidential order, but deliberations were at an early stage and the issue had not yet been brought to President Donald Trump, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The discussions, first reported by the New York Times, center on whether to deny visas to more than 90 million Chinese in what would be one of Washington’s toughest actions yet in a widening feud with Beijing that some have likened to a new Cold War.

Such a ban, if implemented, could hit the ruling Communist Party from the highest levels down to its rank-and-file and would be certain to draw retaliation against Americans who travel to China. This could include not only diplomats but also business executives, potentially harming U.S. interests in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the possibility of such a travel ban, told reporters on Friday that, should it materialise, it would mean the United States was choosing to stand against 1.4 billion people.

“This is against the trend of the 21st century, and it is very absurd,” she said, noting that no U.S. official had clarified whether the reports of the possible ban were correct.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped short of confirming it was under consideration but said: “We’re working our way through, under the president’s guidance, about how to think about pushing back against the Chinese Communist Party.”

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters: “We keep every option on the table with regard to China.”

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have sunk to the lowest point in decades as they clash over China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, its tightening grip on Hong Kong, its disputed claims in the South China Sea, trade and accusations of human rights crimes in Xinjiang.

U.S. officials across multiple agencies are involved in the process, which includes consideration of whether to block Communist Party members’ children from attending American universities, said the source, who has been briefed on deliberations.

The fact that such a sweeping ban is being discussed shows the lengths to which Trump’s aides may be prepared to go as they make the tough-on-China theme a thrust of his campaign for re-election in November.

Trump and prospective Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have competed to outdo each other on who can take the stronger stand against China.

Trump’s aides have made the Communist Party a main target for what they call Beijing’s “malign” activities. But Trump has held off on direct criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he has praised as a friend.

FILE PHOTO: The flags of China, U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party are displayed in a flag stall at the Yiwu Wholesale Market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, China, May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo

Among the options is to base such a visa moratorium on immigration laws used by the Trump to justify his 2017 travel ban from a group of predominantly Muslim countries, according to the person familiar with the discussions.

Trump could also have authority to make exceptions for certain individuals or categories, the source said.

One difficulty would be determining which Chinese nationals are party members, since U.S. authorities do not have full lists, the source said.

Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, additional reporting by Makini Brice, Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom in Washington and Cate Cadell in Beijing; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Tom Brown, Jonathan Oatis and Nick Macfie

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