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A US travel ban would bar China’s top billionaire entrepreneurs from America

China's Baidu Inc is among 165 companies identified by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The company could be at risk of being delisted if the US legislation were to pass. Photo: The Standard. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

HONG KONG, Jul 19, 2020, CNN Business. The Trump administration is reportedly considering a ban on travel to the United States by all members of the Chinese Communist Party and their families. That could have major consequences for China’s wealthiest entrepreneurs and business leaders, CNN reported.

The draft of the order — the existence of which was first reported by The New York Times, citing four anonymous sources — has not been made public, and the Times reported that it could still be rejected by President Donald Trump. Reuters confirmed details of the Times article, citing an anonymous source.

Such restrictions would be sweeping, potentially affecting the more than 90 million party members and their families.

They include many members of China’s corporate elite, who would be unable to travel to America to do business. Alibaba (BABA) founder Jack Ma, Dalian Wanda Group founder Wang Jianlin and BYD founder Wang Chuanfu are all members of the Communist Party. Ma, who has a net worth of nearly $50 billion, according to Bloomberg, was famously outed as a communist nearly two years ago by the People’s Daily, the ruling party’s official newspaper.

Dalian Wanda owns the world’s biggest movie theater chain, AMC (AMC). BYD is one of China’s leading electric carmakers, and boasts Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) among its major shareholders.
“China’s rich and powerful are almost all party members,” said Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, adding that people with money or influence are more likely to join the party.

Whether an executive believes in the party’s philosophy or not, Lam said becoming a member has a lot of practical use in China. He suggested that party membership could help people obtain bank loans and do business with state-run firms.

A travel ban could snare many more top CEOs in China, depending on how wide the net is cast. Executives often have links to the government, even if they haven’t been identified as card-carrying party members. Tencent (TCEHY) founder Pony Ma and Xiaomi chairman Lei Jun, for example, are both members of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s top legislative body. And Baidu (BIDU) founder Robin Li is a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a top political advisory body.

There are more than 30 million private companies in China. Of 8,000 entrepreneurs who responded to a government survey published last year, more than half said they were members of the Chinese Communist Party. A quarter of the total respondents were members of the NPC, while roughly a third were members of the CPPCC.

It’s also common for private enterprises to work with the Communist Party. Last year, for example, China sent officials into Alibaba, automaker Geely (GELYF) and dozens of other companies as part of a plan to bolster high-tech manufacturing. TikTok owner ByteDance, meanwhile, has its own Communist Party committee, led by Zhang Fuping, according to state media reports.

A ban on travel to the United States would likely cause serious problems for these executives and their firms. Many Chinese companies — including Alibaba and Baidu — are traded on stock exchanges in the United States, for example.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Friday that a travel ban would be “very absurd.” Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the report of the possible ban had “caused a very big reaction among Chinese people.”

“If this report is true, then the United States is blatantly going against 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Hua said at a press briefing.

Some experts, meanwhile, are skeptical about how such a ban would work in practice.

“It would ban far too many people from coming to the US,” said David Zweig, professor emeritus and director of the Center on China’s Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “And what will the US do if people lie?”

Zweig pointed out that many senior academics are also members of the Chinese Communist Party, and the move could have serious repercussions for Chinese students who study in the United States.

Lam, though, said he thinks the move is instead likely intended to “send a message,” even if the United States sacrifices some business interests. He pointed out that tensions between the United States are continuing to rise, and a “decoupling” between the two countries is accelerating.

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