China on Thursday branded a potential US travel ban as “pathetic” and pledged to respond to “bullying” as relations between the powers deteriorate.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying also invited US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to visit China’s western Xinjiang region to see that there are no human rights violations, responding to sanctions and accusations of wrongdoing against the Uighur Muslim minorities who live there.
It came after reports said the Trump administration is considering a travel ban against members of the Chinese Communist Party and their relatives, a move that would deepen the rift between Washington and Beijing.
The draft presidential proclamation could impact as many as 270 million people, according to an internal government estimate, reported the New York Times.
It could also authorise the US government to revoke visas for party members and their families already in the country, essentially expelling them from America.
Ms Hua said such a ban, if true, would be “pathetic.”
Asked whether the recent sanctions imposed by Washington will impact the Phase 1 trade deal it reached with the US earlier this year, Ms Hua told reporters that China hopes the agreement can still be implemented.
“We always implement our commitments but we know that some in the US are oppressing China and bullying China,” she said. “As an independent sovereign state China must respond to the bullying practices by the US side; we must say no, we must make responses and take reactive moves to it.”
Restricted entry could also apply to members of the Chinese military and executives at state-owned enterprises – typically appointed by the party.
In practice, many of these people are likely to be party members. The order would cite the same statute used in a 2017 travel ban against Muslim-majority countries, imbuing the president with the power to block entry of foreign nationals deemed to be “detrimental to the interests of the US.”
Such sweeping travel restrictions would be a bold move against China by the US, and significantly deepen the rift between the two countries.
What started as a trade spat has extended to clashes over the coronavirus outbreak, detention of Muslims in internment camps, erosion of liberties in Hong Kong, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and national security concerns over the use of Chinese technology.
Over the last week, the US has sanctioned Chinese officials on many of those issues, and more could be on the table.
Mr Trump signalled on Wednesday that he had not ruled out additional sanctions after signing the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, aimed at punishing Beijing for imposing a draconian national security law in Hong Kong.
The new legislation already authorises sanctions and visa restrictions against Chinese officials and financial institutions involved with implementing a draconian new national security law in the city.
After Mr Trump signed the bill, Beijing summoned US ambassador Terry Branstad to express displeasure and warn of its coming “necessary response to the wrong actions of the US.”
China has also announced tit-for-tat sanctions of its own against American officials, and accused the US for bullying.
“Unreasonable meddling and shameless threats by the US are typical gangster logic and bullying behaviour,” said Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong on Thursday.
The US also said it would restrict visas for employees of Chinese technology firms, including Huawei. The company is in the middle of a global row given longstanding security concerns over using its equipment.
The UK this week reversed its decision, now banning use of Huawei equipment in the country’s 5G networks, a move Beijing denounced Thursday as “discriminatory.”
China has threatened retaliation and shamed the UK for being pressured by the US to drop Huawei.
Despite the ongoing diplomatic row, a second group of more than 100 US diplomats and their relatives are flying back to Beijing.
The US government is working to restaff one of its largest foreign missions in the world after evacuating personnel earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
More recently, the US government has appeared to make clear its policy actions are directed at the Chinese Communist Party, rather than Chinese as a whole, saying the country’s leaders should take responsibility for a range of alleged violations.
Even that, however, can be a difficult distinction. The upper echelon of the Communist Party’s 92 million members – led by Xi Jinping – are the country’s most elite and powerful, in control of domestic and foreign policy.
Those in the lower ranks supervise everything from enforcing recycling rules to coronavirus quarantines. While some are required to join the party, such as civil servants, many in other professions, from law to the arts, choose to join for more career opportunities.