China is furious about a bill introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and passed in the Senate unanimously on Friday that would rename the plaza in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington after a Nobel Peace Prize winner who is currently jailed in the nation.
“If the relevant bill is passed into law, it will cause serious consequences,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a news conference, The Washington Post reported. “We demand the US Senate stop promoting the bill and hope the US executive authorities put an end to this political farce.”
He added the bill was “contrary to the basic norms” of international relations.
On Tuesday, the Obama administration said the president would veto the proposal to name the short stretch of street in front of the embassy after Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in jail for inciting state subversion, per the Post.
Xiaobo’s offence was organising a petition in 2008 that called for the end of one-party rule in China. Two years later, after he had been imprisoned, he won the Nobel Peace Prize.
A State Department spokesman said the bill, which would still need to pass in the House before it made it to the president, wouldn’t do anything to help lead to China’s release of Xiaobo.
“We view this kind of legislative action as something that only complicates our efforts, so we oppose this approach,” Mark Toner said, per the Post. “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.”
Cruz responded to the Obama administration’s stance on his bill, saying in a statement that it showed the White House’s “eagerness to coddle an authoritarian Communist regime at the expense of pro-American dissidents.”
He also mentioned the irony of Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, vetoing a bill honouring the following winner.
But Cruz’s own national security adviser, Victoria Coates, told CNN that the presidential candidate isn’t trying to be “overtly antagonistic,” adding, however, that Cruz believes human rights were put “on the back burner” since the Obama took office in 2009.
A White House official told CNN the bill was simply a “stunt” by Cruz.
“While we continue to impress upon China the imperative of respecting human rights and releasing Liu Xiaobo, as well as other political prisoners, we do not believe Sen. Cruz’s ploy to rename a street in Washington DC is an effective way to achieve either goal,” the official said. “In fact, legislative stunts such as this complicate our efforts.”
Cruz had attempted to pass the bill twice before in the Senate, once last September and again in October. Both times, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) blocked the legislation.
This time, after Cruz’s introduction of the bill again on February 12, the Senate unanimously passed it after the senator lifted a hold he placed on a number of presidential nominations, such as for ambassador to Norway and Sweden, per CNN. Cruz placed those holds in protest of the Iran deal.