- In considering an entry ban that could affect up to 300 million Chinese, Washington is trying to drive a wedge between the people and the regime
- Ironically, since Xi Jinping came to power, such a tactic has become less likely to succeed
“The leadership of the Communist Party of China is the defining feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” On July 15, the QiushiJournal, one of the party’s leading mouthpieces, published under this title a collection of excerpts from President Xi Jinping’s speeches and reports from 2013 to 2019.Among other things, it said that the greatest strength of China’s socialist system was the party’s leadership and that the party was the highest force for political leadership, Xinhua reported. “The party exercises overall leadership over all areas of endeavour in every part of the country.”On the same day, The New York Times published a bombshell report online saying that Washington was considering banning Communist Party members and their families from the United States. Such a sweeping ban could put as many as 300 million Chinese nationals under a cloud and prevent them from setting foot in the country.The timing of the two reports published on the same day may be purely coincidental but their implications have added another dimension to the already-tense China-US relationship, which has been in a tailspin over the past year.
The publication of Xi’s extracts of speeches is the party leadership’s most forthright declaration of strengthening the single-party state while Washington’s consideration of a blanket ban on Communist Party members and their families represents its most audacious idea for how to undermine that very system by making a distinction – and thus attempting to drive a wedge – between the Chinese people and the authoritarian regime.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a sharply worded speech that the engagement policy with China had failed and urged an international alliance to pressure the party to change its behaviour, according to American media reports.
In particular, he called for empowering the Chinese people. “Communists almost always lie. The biggest lie that they tell is to think that they speak for 1.4 billion people who are surveilled, oppressed and scared to speak out,” Pompeo said.Washington’s latest line of thinking will no doubt add credence to a theory gaining currency among Chinese officials that the US has finally revealed its true colours by seeking to isolate and overthrow the Communist Party, instead of finding a way to coexist as its previous engagement policy had intended.
Will it work or is it just wishful thinking?Over the past few months, hardly a day has gone by without US officials denouncing the Chinese authorities as the greatest threat or announcing moves to contain China, whether through sanctioning Chinese officials and companies over Xinjiang, sending aircraft carriers through the South China Sea or accusing Beijing of sponsoring hackers to steal research related toCovid-19 vaccines, just to name a few examples.
The latest move came on Wednesday when Beijing confirmed that the day before Washington had ordered its consulate in Houston to shut down within three days and its diplomatic personnel to leave the country.
Although Chinese officials and ordinary people were already braced for more bad news regarding bilateral ties, the Times report on the blanket travel ban still managed to produce shock and incredulity.
The party, which will celebrate its centenary next year, boasts 92 million members. Taken together with their close family members including parents, spouses and children, the total number could easily run into 300 million or more.
Given that the party’s influence permeates almost all levels of society and a party membership card is often a prerequisite for employment or promotion, it is not hard to find someone living in urban areas who is either a party member or has relatives who are, working not only for government departments and state-owned enterprises but also for universities, and private or foreign enterprises. Information about party membership is often accessible from public databases and, in fact, party members are encouraged these days to publicly show their membership as a badge of honour.
But the majority of the party members have nothing to do with the decisions of the party and government. If Washington decides to go ahead with the ban, that will basically lead to the decoupling of the people-to-people exchanges between the two countries. Until now, China hawks in the US have pushed for economic decoupling with China. Given the wilfully unpredictable nature of Donald Trump’s presidency, the proposed travel ban has elicited various interpretations from analysts.