An amendment to the State Department budget bill would rename the street on which the Chinese embassy in the U.S. is located—after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, who is currently serving eleven years in a Chinese prison for subversion. The embassy’s new address would be “1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza.” The BBC has more:
The Chinese foreign ministry has called the proposed change of address – which now requires Congress approval – “nothing more than a sheer farce”.“Some people from the United States have used so-called human rights and the Liu Xiaobo case to engage in this meaningless sensationalism,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters.The amendment was proposed by Virginia Representative Frank Wolf, who said renaming the street would send “a clear and powerful message that the United States remains vigilant and resolute in its commitment to safeguard human rights around the globe”.
The congressman is dead wrong: The only thing this step shows China is that the United States has more than its share of opportunists and hotheads. This move is weak and pointless. It will do nothing to help Liu or other imprisoned dissidents and it only demonstrates the impotence of the American government. Moreover, it broadcasts what many Chinese will see as a message of hypocritical hostility, increasing the strength of ultra-nationalists in China without helping the U.S. make progress in any way.Too many so-called human rights activists are addicted to a shadow politics of empty symbolism and vacuous feel-good gestures. Promoting human rights globally is hard work and serious business. When the cause of human rights becomes a hobbyhorse for political stuntmeisters and short term thinkers, bad things often happen to people overseas.More, integrating effective human rights work with something as volatile, complicated, and many-sided as the U.S.-China relationship is fiendishly difficult under the best of circumstances. Getting it right matters almost infinitely more than empty gestures like Wolf’s amendment. What would happen to human rights and many other good things if U.S.-China relations slide toward confrontation and war?Congress sticking an oar in here and there at random is not going to help the U.S., China, or the global cause of human rights. Like the green lobby, whose lack of strategic thinking undercuts badly needed environmental progress, fuzzy thinking by human rights advocates hurts the important cause such advocates hope to help. TAI believes in human rights and wants to see the cause of liberty advance, and it gives us no pleasure to be the skunk at the garden party. But too often the press gives groups ostensibly representing ‘good causes’ a free pass, and that doesn’t help anyone. We’d like in some small way to change that; sharper press scrutiny will, we hope, spur these groups and their leaders to raise their game and do better work for an important cause.