U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is re-upping his push to rename the address of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., after a pro-democracy dissident in the wake of the Nobel Peace Prize winner's death.
Liu Xiaobo, a leading critic of Communist Party rule in China, died in state custody in a Chinese hospital on Thursday after battling liver cancer. He played a key role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his “long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."
A year earlier, a Chinese court sentenced him to 11 years in prison for his contributions to Charter 08, a political reform manifesto.
The Texas Republican has led a push to change the address of the Chinese Embassy to "1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza" in honor of Liu since 2014, citing as precedent Congress' 1984 decision to rename the road outside the Soviet Embassy after prominent Russian political dissident Andrei Sakharov — another Nobel Peace Prize winner.
In May, Cruz introduced a bill to change the address, setting in motion a process of changing all maps, official documents and street signs related to the embassy's new designation.
Cruz’s legislation, Senate Bill 1187, has been referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for consideration. He said he's hoping for action “as soon as possible.”
Cruz's press secretary, Phil Novack, told The Texas Tribune on Friday that the bill is a “major priority” for Cruz and that the senator is “optimistic” it will win support from Congress and the White House.
In a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday — delivered before Liu's death — Cruz denounced Liu’s detention and vowed to “continue to fight” for the change of address if China did not release Liu.
"The end goal has never been to merely rename a street, but rather to use that action to shine light on [Liu Xiaobo and his wife Liu Xia] and to pressure [China] to do the right thing” by freeing Liu, he said.
While it's a significant political statement, Cruz — who is of Cuban descent — has described his quest as personal.
In 2015, he told the Senate that Liu’s imprisonment “is not an issue that is abstract to me” because his own father and aunt were “imprisoned and tortured” by repressive regimes in Cuba.
The U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to make Liu and his fellow dissidents “central to all our dealings” with China, he said, because they represent “values that transcend the mighty dollar” of economic relations.
Beijing disclosed that Liu had advanced liver cancer in late June, and granted him medical parole. But despite Liu’s request to receive treatment overseas — and the testimony of two foreign doctors who declared Liu fit to travel — the Chinese government insisted that Liu was too ill to leave the country.
In 2016, Cruz sponsored a bill similar to SB 1187 that passed the Senate but died in the House after then-President Barack Obama indicated he would veto the legislation.
After the Senate vote, a spokesman from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it violated “basic norms of international relations” and promised “severe consequences” if the bill became law.
In an email newsletter Thursday, prominent China-watcher Bill Bishop wrote he expects expects Cruz’s bill “to be revived” now because it could be “an easy bipartisan win for Congress and the embattled president.”
Bob Fu, a leading Chinese human rights activist and pastor based in Midland, told the Tribune that he is “definitely more optimistic” about Cruz’s bill getting passed now that Trump is president. Fu called Cruz a "fearless champion" of human rights in China and said his advocacy group, ChinaAid, is "actively" lobbying Congress to pass Cruz's legislation.
The White House released a brief statement on Thursday saying President Donald Trump is “deeply saddened” by Liu’s death.
Fu says that SB 1187 will boost the U.S.’s “moral authority” in the world by showing the Chinese government that human rights will not be “sidelined.” Fu urged other Texas senators and representatives to issue a statement in support of Liu Xiaobo and human rights in China.
Calls on Friday to both the Chinese Consulate in Houston and the Chinese Embassy went unanswered.
If Cruz gets his way, he says Chinese officials “will be forced to recognize the bravery" of Liu and to "acknowledge it dozens of times a day — day after day after day.”