This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
The United States has renewed policy guidance preventing members of the Communist Party or “any other totalitarian party” from gaining residency or citizenship, in a move that could affect tens of millions of members of China’s ruling party.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued the policy guidance on Oct. 2, saying that “membership in or affiliation with the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party is inconsistent and incompatible with the … Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, which includes pledging to ‘support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States’,” the agency said in a statement on its official website.
“Any intending immigrant who is a member or affiliate of the Communist Party or any other totalitarian party (or subdivision or affiliate), domestic or foreign, is inadmissible to the United States,” it said, with “inadmissibility” applying to citizenship or residency criteria.
The U.S. has previously ruled that members of communist parties are inadmissible to take the Oath of Allegiance, but the rules have been very leniently applied in recent years.
The new advisory could affect nearly 200 million members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and Communist Youth League.
Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the party-affiliated Global Times newspaper, appeared to welcome the move.
“Many outstanding talents in China are Communist Party members,” Hu said via his Twitter account. “The decision by the US helps keep more talents in China since it takes out their illusion. Not bad.”
But foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed “strong dissatisfaction.”
“If this is true, then I think it’s very sad,” Hua told a regular news briefing in Beijing. “We hope that the United States will end this policy, which violates the basic norms of international relations and does little to boost the image and credibility of the U.S. as a great power.”
90 million party members
A Beijing-based academic who gave only the surname Wei said the news could signal huge changes among China’s political and financial elite, most of whom are linked to the ruling party in some way.
“There are 90 million party members in China,” Wei said. “Most of them have no commitment to communism; they just joined as a way to improve their profile.”
“For them, joining the party was a means to an end, because it’s much easier to gain promotion or get the better jobs,” he said. “So this is serious, for them.”
More than 80 million members of the Communist Youth League will also be affected by the ban, Wei said.
A former party member surnamed Mao said the middle- and higher-ranking members of the party will be hardest hit by the new policy.
“This is because they all have relatives, property and children in the U.S.,” Mao said. “The lower-ranking party members would never have the option of going to the U.S., so only some people in the system will be directly affected.”
According to a 2012 survey by Hong Kong’s Dongxiang magazine, some 90 percent of the relatives of Communist Party Central Committee members have overseas passports or residency.
Many Chinese nationals who emigrate and obtain foreign nationality don’t then register their new passport in China, enabling them to retain their Chinese residency rights and other benefits, including pensions, the report found.
The new rules means that nobody can now receive a U.S. green card or citizenship without swearing that they are not, nor have ever been, a member of the Communist Party or other totalitarian parties.
Warning to younger people
Federal investigators will check such claims, and will disqualify anyone found to have fraudulently obtained residency or citizenship, experts told RFA.
Beijing-based scholar Song Hui said the new rules also send a warning to younger people in China.
“Anyone who is thinking about their advancement, say in academia or the technology sector, or who plans to go to the U.S. shouldn’t be joining the party,” Song told RFA. “They will choose not to, if they plan to go to the U.S. for further studies.”
Jiangsu rights activist Zhang Jianping said members of the Chinese Communist Party are no longer welcome in the free world.
“The 90 million party members should know the truth about what kind of person you should be to live in the civilized world,” Zhang said.
In Hong Kong, the new guidelines raised fresh questions about which of Hong Kong’s high-ranking officials, former officials and top-level business leaders are members of the CCP.
Hong Kong representatives to the National People’s Congress (NPC), the heads of Beijing’s Central Liaison Office in the city, and the heads of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office are among those assumed to be CCP members.
Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa now serves as vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a CCP advisory body. He has lived in the U.S., and his children are U.S. citizens.
He visited the U.S. alongside former Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2011, and stood next to then vice president Xi Jinping when he received then U.S. vice president Joe Biden in Beijing in the same year, fueling speculation that he is a member of the CCP.
But the CCP generally remains silent regarding the party membership of public figures, so many suspected members among the Hong Kong elite have never been publicly confirmed as such.
It was unclear whether members of underground CCP affiliate the Hong Kong and Macau Work Committee, or the China-backed Federation of Trade Unions, would be covered by the U.S. guidelines.
Political commentators told RFA that it is hard to verify who is a member of the secretive Work Committee.
U.S.-based democracy activist turned immigration expert Zheng Cunzhu called on people to send any evidence they could find of a person’s membership in the Work Committee to the U.S. authorities.
“If the evidence leads to a conclusion that the [Work Committee] or the Federation of Trade Unions have connections with extremist ideology or espouse communism, then the members of these groups will likely be prevented from emigrating to the U.S. in future,” Zheng said.
China analyst Willy Lam said there are already a large number of CCP members already in the U.S., and that their status was unlikely to be affected.
“Immigration has been going on for years,” he said. “There are many party members who are students or who stay in the United States to work after graduation.”
“I don’t think the Chinese side will issue an order for this group to return to China, so there will still be a certain number of CCP members in the U.S.,” he said.
Chinese government figures from this year showed the number of registered members of the Communist Party at 91.914 million.
Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper reported last month that a CCP member and retired Chinese official was denied entry to the U.S. and had his visa revoked after trying to visit his daughter there, amid unconfirmed reports that the U.S. is getting ready to impose a total entry ban on CCP members.
A Chinese woman who had immigrated to the U.S. said her father, a retired cadre of the Chinese Communist Party, was denied entry into the country at Detroit Metropolitan Airport on Sept. 17, the Apple Daily quoted Zheng Cunzhu as saying.
The New York Times reported in July that the Trump administration was considering an outright visa ban on CCP members. Commenting on the report, Secretary of State Mike Pence said the administration was looking at ways of “pushing back” against Beijing.