The Corner

The Quiet Death of ‘Liu Xiaobo Plaza’

Readers of National Review are well aware of “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.” We have editorialized in favor of it, and I have written about it from time to time. A bill has passed the Senate. It has apparently been killed by the House — the Republican House. Worse, it has been killed in silence, without explanation.

Let me back up.

Liu Xiaobo is a Chinese intellectual, democracy activist, and political prisoner. He has been imprisoned since 2008. Two years later, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (in absentia, of course). I wrote about this here.

Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, has been under house arrest for all this time: a brutal form of house arrest. She has no access to the outside world. No television or Internet. Guards make sure she is locked in, day and night. According to reports, she is in bad physical and mental shape.

In the mid-1980s, Congress, with President Reagan, did something symbolic: They renamed the area outside the Soviet embassy in Washington “Andrei Sakharov Plaza” — in honor of the great Russian scientist and dissident (who was also a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize).

Taking a page from the anti-Communists and freedom champions of that era, Senator Ted Cruz and others proposed “Liu Xiaobo Plaza” — an area outside the Chinese embassy named after one of the dictatorship’s most prominent political prisoners, and one of the greatest men in all of China.

The Senate passed the bill, by unanimous consent, in February. Since then, it has gone to the House — to the committee chaired by Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), as I understand it. He has refused to move on the bill. The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has refused to move as well.

Chaffetz, I don’t know much about. It seems to me he had about 17 positions on Donald Trump during the recent campaign. Ryan, I do know something about: and he has long been a freedom champion. A Reaganite. An old-style Republican. In the vice-presidential debate four years ago, he ripped Joe Biden six ways to Sunday on this question of freedom. The Obama administration had betrayed our values, he said. This was particularly true in Iran, whose Green Revolution was essentially ignored by Obama, Biden & Co.

Jared Genser is a well-known human-rights lawyer. He represents both Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia (pro bono). About two weeks ago, he had an article in the Wall Street Journal, urging Ryan to act. There has been no sign of action. Why?

To my knowledge, neither Ryan nor Jason Chaffetz nor anybody else has offered a word of explanation. That is their right, I suppose. Even public officials can keep mum, if they want. But I think they owe the public an answer. I think the public — or somebody — should demand an answer.

President Obama would no doubt veto a Liu bill. So? Is the House GOP’s view the same as Obama’s? So far as I know, the 2009 Nobel peace laureate (Obama) has never lifted a finger for the 2010 Nobel peace laureate (Liu).

For decades now, I have said that, just as China has one party, the United States has one party, when it comes to policy toward China: Whatever you do, do not annoy the CCP. There are some honorable exceptions to this rule — George W. Bush appeared in public with the Dalai Lama — but not enough.

My guess is, Republican donors don’t like the idea of “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” because they want commercial relations with China. They fear that honoring a dissident will endanger commercial relations. I doubt this is so. The Free World has more leverage than it knows. I should say, too, that I’m all for commercial relations. In fact, I’m more for them than are most.

But there are other considerations in life, such as standing up to a one-party dictatorship with a gulag. Standing up for the values and principles that constitute our heritage — that constitute our very reason for being.

Evidently, “Liu Xiaobo Plaza” is dead in this session of Congress — killed by the House Republicans. If it is to come to pass, it must be revived in a future session: starting from square one. I hope that Speaker Ryan will have a change of mind. And that President Trump will sign the bill.

Human rights are not all of foreign policy, heaven knows. But they are a component. And Americans are a peculiar nation, a peculiar people — not like all the others. Freedom has few enough friends as it is. If it loses us, it barely stands a chance.


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