BEIJING — The Obama administration said Tuesday that the president would veto legislation to rename a stretch of street in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after a jailed Chinese dissident, after the Chinese government warned of “serious consequences” if the proposal was enacted.
Friday, the Senate unanimously backed a proposal introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), a Republican presidential candidate, to rename the plaza in front of the embassy after Liu Xiaobo, who in 2009 was sentenced to 11 years in jail on charges of inciting state subversion.
State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that the bill would only complicate efforts to impress upon China the need to respect human rights and release Liu, the Associated Press reported. He said the White House had indicated that the president would veto the bill.
“We view this kind of legislative action as something that only complicates our efforts, so we oppose this approach,” Toner said 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.”
Earlier, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that the proposal ran “contrary to the basic norms of international relations.”
“If the relevant bill is passed into law, it will cause serious consequences,” Hong told a daily news conference. “We demand the U.S. Senate stop promoting the bill and hope the U.S. executive authorities put an end to this political farce.”
The bill would make 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza the official address of the Chinese Embassy. The white-stone compound’s current address is 3505 International Pl. NW, not far from the National Zoo and its panda house, home to animals on loan from China.
The bill would need to clear the House and be signed by the president before it could become law.
Nevertheless, the move has angered China. On Sunday, the Global Times tabloid, which often reflects government views, called the proposal “futile.”
“The US has been at its wits’ end in dealing with China as it is reluctant to employ military threats or economic sanctions that may backfire,” the newspaper wrote. “The only option for Washington seems to be petty actions that disturb China.”
Last year, the House Appropriations Committee also voted to instruct Secretary of State John F. Kerry to rename the street.
Cruz said in a statement Tuesday that the veto threat showed the administration’s “eagerness to coddle an authoritarian Communist regime at the expense of pro-American dissidents,” the AP reported. He said it was ironic that Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, wants to veto a bill honoring the 2010 prize winner, Liu.