US curbs travel visas for millions of Chinese Communist Party members

The Chinese Communist Party has around 92 million members, including national and local government leaders. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - The US restricted travel visas for members of the Chinese Communist Party, the latest blow to relations between the world's biggest economies.

The new rules, which took effect on Wednesday (Dec 2), will allow party members and their immediate families to obtain single-entry visas, which will be limited to one month. Previously, party members could obtain multiple-entry visitor visas of as many as 10 years in duration.

"The CCP and its members actively work in the US to influence Americans through propaganda, economic coercion, and other nefarious activities," a US Embassy spokesman said in an e-mailed statement.

"For decades we allowed the CCP free and unfettered access to US institutions and businesses while these same privileges were never extended freely to US citizens in China."

China's Communist Party has around 92 million members, including national and local government leaders. Its ranks also include millions of business people, such as China's richest man, Mr Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba Group, and members of the media and academia. It could also impact the children of party members, many of whom study in the US.

While China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said she wasn't aware of the visa actions, she urged the US to reverse course. "China lodges representations with the US side and we hope people in the US will adopt a common rational view toward China and give up their hatred and abnormal mindset toward the CCP," Hua told a regular news briefing on Thursday (Dec 3) in Beijing.

The changes are likely to further strain a relationship already roiled by a trade war, intensified geopolitical competition, and mutual recriminations about the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic. They add to a growing raft of anti-China measures passed by the Trump administration as it prepares to leave office.

On Tuesday, the US House of Representatives approved legislation that could ultimately lead to Chinese companies getting kicked off American exchanges if regulators aren't allowed to review their financial audits.

The Trump administration also banned cotton imports from a military-linked Chinese firm it accused of "slave labour", as it ramps up pressure on Beijing over its treatment of mostly Muslim ethnic minority groups in the far west region of Xinjiang.

The new visa rules fit with the Trump administration's efforts to create tension between the ruling party and the broader Chinese population. Chinese President Xi Jinping has sought to make the party more central in every day life, echoing Mao Zedong's edict that the party leads everything - "east, west, south, north and centre."

In September, Mr Xi vowed to "never allow any individual or any force to separate the CCP and Chinese people, and to pitch them against each other."

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in November that the US was "not finished yet" when it comes to getting tough on China, describing the party as a "Marxist-Leninist monster" whose rule is "authoritarian, brutish and antithetical to human freedom".

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