Congress Trolls China With a Street Name

Beijing's embassy in Washington could be in front of "Liu Xiaobo Plaza," an imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize-winning dissident.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty

A congressional committee trolled the Chinese government Tuesday by voting to rename the street in front of their embassy after a prominent Chinese dissident, imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Liu Xiaobo.

The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. is currently located on "International Plaza," a street owned by the federal government. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), offered an amendment to the State Department spending bill requiring the Secretary of State to rename the area in front of the Chinese embassy Liu Xiaobo Plaza.

Originally, Wolf had gathered a broad bipartisan group of 14 congressmen, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia's delegate to Congress, to urge Washington D.C.'s city council to rename the area in front of the Chinese embassy, pegging the request to the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

The move was meant to highlight Chinese human rights violations and send a message to the Chinese people that the United States is committed to human rights.

"By renaming the street in front of the Chinese Embassy after Dr. Liu, we would send a clear and powerful message that the United States remains vigilant and resolute in its commitment to safeguard human rights around the globe," the 14 lawmakers wrote in May. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson responded by introducing a resolution supporting the effort.

But, as it turns out, the District's government doesn't own the land -- it doesn't even pick up trash there. Instead, the federal government does, and the State Department has authority to name the plaza. After Wolf learned of this, he offered an amendment to the State Department's spending bill.

Wolf told The Daily Beast that the idea for renaming the street had come from Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident who spent time in a Siberian labor camp and went on to become a notable Israeli politician.

Sharansky reminded members of Congress that in the 1980s, the street in front of the Soviet embassy in D.C. had been renamed Sakharov Plaza in honor of dissident Andrei Sakharov.

"This was really his idea," Wolf said. "He maintained that every time someone in the West spoke out for him, his life got better."

Sharansky has been working with David Keyes, the executive director of Advancing Human Rights, who has his eyes set on changing the names of streets in front of all the embassies of dictatorships, for example, Magnitsky Plaza for Russia, Tavakoli Plaza for Iran, and Darwish Plaza for Syria.

Since it is a nonpartisan issue, Wolf said he had high hopes his tweaking of the Chinese government would be adopted by the Senate.

"This is a freedom, democracy, liberty issue -- and not Republican and not Democrat," he said after the amendment passed. "I'm pleased, and I think it will be an inspiration Xiaobo's wife" and other dissidents around the world.

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The House Appropriations Committee agreed by voice vote to Wolf's amendment Tuesday, pushing the issue forward for the full House's consideration.

Liu, a Chinese democracy activist, was sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment in 2009. He was charged with "inciting subversion" after years of vocal opposition to the Chinese government and advocating for non-violent democratic reforms. In 2010, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."