THE EFFORT to rename part of the Northwest Washington street in front of the Chinese Embassy in honor of an imprisoned Chinese dissident is, as some have noted, purely symbolic. But that should be celebrated, not derided. Speaking out against an egregious injustice is the right thing to do and, as history has shown, can eventually make a difference.
The proposal would rename the section of International Place NW that runs in front of the Chinese Embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” after the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner who is unjustly jailed for human rights activism. The House Appropriations Committee approved last month an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), to the 2015 State Department spending bill that directs the change on the federally owned property. Signs would be posted and the mailing address changed.
The measure is reminiscent of the 1984 renaming of the street in front of the Soviet Embassy in honor of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov, who had been exiled from Moscow to a city off-limits to foreigners. According to Mr. Sakharov’s stepdaughter, it’s a step worth taking. “It definitely made a difference,” Tatiana Yankelevich, now at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, told us of Sakharov Plaza. “It raised the level of awareness. . . . There was more press attention, more interest in the issue of human rights, and that was difficult to ignore.”
Prospects for the measure are unclear. There is bipartisan support, including from House Democratic leadership, but the Obama administration has taken a chilly “no position” stance, in keeping with its timid approach to confronting human rights abuses. No doubt there is fear of angering the Chinese, who had swift criticism for the renaming proposal. “A complete farce,” a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman told the New York Times; “really absurd and provocative,” a ministry spokesman told us.
What’s absurd is that Liu Xiaobo is now in the fifth year of an 11-year prison sentence for advocating greater freedom for his country and that his wife is under house arrest for no charge at all. The farce is the refusal of the Chinese regime to engage global concerns on this issue. So yes, let’s change the embassy’s address. Someday maybe a democratic China will proudly forward to Mr. Liu letters addressed to him in care of the Chinese Embassy, 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza NW, Washington DC 20008.