BEIJING — China reacted brusquely Wednesday to a vote in the U.S. Congress that approved renaming a street outside the Chinese embassy in Washington after China’s most famous political prisoner.
A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, labeled as “purely a farce” the vote by the House Appropriations Committee to name the street for Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu’s crime was gathering signatures for a human rights charter similar to one that helped end communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.
Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, angering China’s Communist Party and raising his profile but doing little so far to expedite his release.
In an effort to increase pressure on China, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to a must-pass State Department spending bill that directs the secretary of state to rename the street outside the Chinese embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”
If the full House of Representatives passes the bill, as is expected, and the Senate and President Obama also approve it, the official address of the Chinese embassy would become 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza.
“Every piece of incoming mail to the embassy would bear the name of the imprisoned Nobel laureate,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who proposed the amendment and who’s one of China’s most vehement U.S. critics.
Wolf’s pressure play has been all but ignored by the media in China, where Liu’s name is “sensitive” and largely censored. Among Western experts on China, there’s been a debate on the wisdom of the congressional move, with some seeing it as the latest “tit for tat” that prevents China and United States from fully engaging on issues that divide them.
Supporters note that Congress previously has renamed streets in Washington to honor international defenders of human rights. In 1984, it honored Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov by renaming part of the street in front of the Soviet embassy.
Wolf originally sought his amendment to highlight the 25th anniversary of China’s crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, of which Liu was an enthusiastic participant.