Obama likely to veto bill renaming Chinese embassy's street after Liu Xiaobo

The Chinese Embassy’s stationery seems safe for now.

President Barack Obama is expected to veto a bill that would change the address of the embassy in Washington from 3505 International Place NW to 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza after the Nobel Peace laureate imprisoned in China.

Ted Cruz, the Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate, introduced the legislation, which passed the Senate on Friday. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House.

Liu, a literary critic and prominent figure in the 1989 Tiananmen protests, was sentenced to an 11-year prison term in 2009 for inciting subversion after he compiled Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto. One year later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his commitment to human rights in China.

'Complicates our efforts'

Mark C. Toner, a deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Tuesday that it was his understanding that Obama would veto the bill if it reached his desk and that changing the name would not be effective in encouraging China to respect human rights and release political prisoners.

“We view this kind of legislative action as something that only complicates our efforts, so we oppose this approach,” he told reporters at a news briefing in Washington. “It’s our desire to work more productively and cooperatively with Congress on ways to address our shared goal of improving human rights in China.”

Cruz says veto coddles China

Cruz accused the White House of refusing to stand up to the Chinese government.

“The Obama administration’s veto threat is yet another outrageous example of its eagerness to coddle an authoritarian communist regime at the expense of pro-American dissidents,” Cruz said in a written statement.

A spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hong Lei, called the bill a violation of “the basic norms of international relations” that would have “severe consequences” if passed.

“We urge the U.S. Congress to stop the approval procedure of the bill,” he told reporters at a news conference Tuesday in Beijing. “We also hope that the U.S. administration can put an end to this political farce.”

'Snowden Street' proposed in Beijing

In 2014, the House Appropriations Committee approved a similar measure to rename the street after Liu. That effort was also denounced by the Chinese government, and some Chinese proposed retaliatory names for the U.S. Embassy’s address in Beijing, including Snowden Street, after the former National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified documents about American online surveillance efforts.

One person on Weibo, the Chinese microblog service, said Wednesday that the street-naming debate raised several questions about Liu, who is not widely discussed in the Chinese news media: “How did the Nobel laurel end up on his head? Why is his name sensitive? If the U.S. Congress decided to give him such an honor, why can’t you give your reasons for opposing it?”

A Cold War example

The members of Congress who are backing the renaming effort have cited a prominent example from the Cold War, when the U.S. changed the Soviet Embassy in Washington’s address to Andrei Sakharov Plaza, after the dissident physicist.

China, too, has its own history of renaming streets for political purposes. At the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, China renamed the Beijing street where the Soviet Embassy was situated Anti-Revisionism Road, a reference to the Chinese belief that the Soviets had abandoned the true path toward communism. That name was eventually dropped in the late 1970s.

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