U.S. weighs China Communist Party visa ban: source

The Trump administration is weighing a possible travel ban on all members of the Chinese Communist Party -- and their families.

That's according to a source familiar with the matter, who spoke with Reuters Thursday (July 16).

It's a move that would be sure to further strain U.S.-China relations -- and would represent one of Washington's toughest actions yet in an escalating feud some have likened to a new Cold War.

If implemented, such a ban would go beyond upper echelons of the party.

It would deny visas to tens of millions of Chinese citizens down to the party's rank-and-file.

The source says U.S. officials are also considering whether to ban Communist Party members' children from attending American universities.

The sweeping measures would almost surely draw retaliation against Americans who travel to China, including not only diplomats but also business executives, potentially harming U.S. interests in the country.

It's also unclear just how the ban would be implemented, since U.S. authorities themselves do not have lists of the party's membership.

The New York Times was first to report the potential ban earlier this week, prompting a response from China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Thursday.

"In our opinion with regard to these comments from the U.S. side, we cannot verify whether they are true or not. You can follow up on this with the US authorities on that one. But if they are true, I think it is quite pathetic."

Hours later U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped short of confirming the news, but said quote "We're working our way through, under the president's guidance, about how to think about pushing back against the Chinese Communist Party."

Relations between the world's two largest economies have sunk to their lowest point in decades, clashing over China's handling of the health crisis, its tightening grip on Hong Kong and disputed claims in the South China Sea.

The fact that such a sweeping travel ban is being discussed shows just how far Trump's aides may go in making his tough-on-China stance a key tenet of his reelection campaign.

But Trump himself has notably held off on directly criticizing Chinese President Xi Jinping, whom he has praised as a friend.