The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Move to rename D.C. street for Chinese dissident gathers steam

Tens of thousands of people attend a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong on June 4 to mark the 25th anniversary the the Tiananmen Square massacre. (AP Photo/Cyrus Wong)

Loop Fans may recall a bipartisan House initiative launched last month — just before the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre — to rename part of a Northwest Washington street by the Chinese Embassy in honor of imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

The lawmakers — including Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — sent a letter to D.C. officials asking them to rename part of International Place NW after Liu, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. City officials said they were mulling the idea.

It turns out that the street is federal property, so D.C. approval wasn’t necessary. Wolf moved Tuesday to insert an amendment to a State Department spending bill instructing Secretary of State John F. Kerry to change the street name to No. 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza. (The precedent for the move is the renaming of a street in front of the Soviet Embassy in Washington for anti-Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.)

The House Committee on Appropriations — though some members reluctantly opposed the idea for fear of offending the Chinese — approved Wolf’s amendment on a voice vote.

The Chinese, of course, are already offended, viewing the effort as a blatant contempt for its laws. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang has called it “very provocative and ignorant behavior,” according to a Reuters report last month.

(However, it appears the Chinese once did this same thing to the Russians,  back in the ’60s when they were having those bitter feuds with the Soviets over ideological purity. By one account, the Chinese renamed a portion of Yangwei Road in front of the Russian Embassy to “Anti-Revisionism Road.”)

Meanwhile, some 15 GOP senators have signaled their support for the renaming. Since the Senate has passed its appropriations measure, the measure, if approved by the House, will have to be worked out in conference.

We hear House supporters are hopeful, so State might want to get those new street signs ready.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman dismissed the committee’s vote as a “complete farce,” the New York Times reported from Beijing.

Would China rename the street in front of the U.S. Embassy? she was asked.

“Do you believe China should take the same action as the U.S.?” she responded, though didn’t answer.

But many Chinese comments online, the Times said, started proposing suggestions, including: “Torture Prisoners Street,” “Snowden Street,” “Osama bin Laden Road” and “Lewinsky.”