TOKYO -- The death of Chinese pro-democracy activist Liu Xiaobo could revive talks in the U.S. Congress of renaming the street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
A bill to change the address of the embassy from "3505 International Place" to "1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza," has been submitted by Senator Ted Cruz several times since 2014, but to date has not passed. When the bill was approved by voice vote in the Senate in February 2016, the Obama White House vetoed the motion.
Yet, with President Donald Trump in office and with a global outpouring of grief over Liu's death, the move could gain bipartisan support.
Cruz reintroduced the legislation in May. Even if the White House were to reject the bill again, the Trump administration could use it as leverage to secure the free movement of Liu's widow, Liu Xia.
Following Liu's death, Cruz posted a message on Facebook, saying, "Today the world lost a hero of liberty and freedom. Ever since leaving the safety and comfort of America to lead the protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989, Dr. Liu sealed his fate as a persistent focus of persecution from the authoritarian [China]."
"Our immediate focus must be his widow," Cruz said, calling for her to be permitted to leave China to receive the $1.5 million monetary award for the Nobel Peace Prize from the Norwegian Nobel Institute. "If there is an issue that should unite us all, it is that the wife (of) a Nobel Peace laureate speaking out for peace and democracy should not be kept hostage in Communist China," he wrote.
In June, as news of Liu's illness was reported, Cruz demanded that China release Liu, warning, "If Beijing does not make the right choice and keeps Dr. Liu imprisoned, then as soon as the Senate reconvenes on July 10, I plan to call on the Senate floor for passage of legislation that will rename the plaza in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., as Liu Xiaobo Plaza."
On July 13, Cruz delivered a speech on the Senate floor, stating, "The end goal has never been to merely rename a street, but rather to use that action to shine light on the Liu's and to pressure [China] to do the right thing."
He gave the example of a similar effort in 1984 to rename the street in front of the Soviet embassy after Andrei Sakharov, the famed Soviet dissident. "When the street was renamed, it meant any time a Soviet had to write to their embassy, they had to write Sakharov's name. It meant any time you picked up the phone and called the embassy and say, 'Where exactly do you find the embassy,' they had to give the address and highlight the dissident. For [China], they do not want to highlight Liu Xiaobo because he is a powerful voice for freedom and against tyranny," Cruz said.
Last year, when the legislation was being discussed, Hong Lei, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the bill a violation of "the basic norms of international relations" that would have "severe consequences" if passed.