D.C.

China opposes effort to rename street outside its embassy in N.W. Washington for jailed activist

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(NewsChannel 8) - Wednesday marks the 25th anniversary of the day when Communist Party leaders sent the Chinese military to clear pro-democracy students from Tiananmen Square.

Hundreds of unarmed protesters and bystanders were killed. To show solidarity with those seeking more freedom in China, a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders has called on the D.C. government to rename a street outside the Chinese Embassy.

In Beijing, Chinese authorities have set up police checkpoints, disrupted Internet connections and detained dozens of government critics. It is part of a security crackdown, discouraging efforts to recognize the events of June 4, 1989.

In Washington, several members of Congress sent a letter to D.C. leaders, requesting that they rename International Place Northwest outside of the Chinese Embassy for Liu Xiaobo – a human rights activist and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner imprisoned by the Chinese government.

The letter is signed by Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Virginia Republican Frank Wolf, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and a dozen others.

It reads, "This modest effort would undoubtedly give hope to the Chinese people who continue to yearn for basic human rights and representative democracy and would remind their oppressors that they are in fact on the wrong side of history."

But D.C. Council members are not convinced.

“International Place is not a well-traveled street,” said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. “So there might be a more effective way for us to give attention to this human rights issue.”

Mendelson said he takes a request from Congressional representatives seriously, but District law restricts renaming streets to individuals who have been dead for at least two years.

“Generally under my chairmanship, we have not been making exceptions to that law,” he said.

What about the Chinese Embassy's neighbors? Bahrain, Jordan and other nations with locations along International Place and International Drive have human rights records that are far from perfect.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh worries about a slippery slope.

“If we start allowing this to be a practice, I mean there's no end of causes or people or things like that that we might be interested in,” Cheh said. “And I just think it's a more appropriate way to proceed for Congress or whatever body it is that's interested in something like this to pass a resolution or take other actions that's appropriate for the issue.”

A spokesperson for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said, "We received the letter and we are reviewing the request."

In a statement, Chinese Embassy spokesperson Geng Shuang said, “There are some people here who always choose to ignore the tremendous economic and social progress China has achieved over the past decades, including the fact that over 600 million people have been lifted out of poverty. We believe that is the ‘biggest’ human rights.”

“Instead, they have only been interested in several criminals who were convicted in accordance with the Chinese laws,” the statement continues, referring to Liu Xiaobo. “It is obvious that what they really care is not the welfare of the vast majority of the Chinese people, but some political agenda. It is ridiculous that by doing so, they even claim to speak on behalf of the Chinese people.”

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