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China Blasts Proposal To Name D.C. Street For Dissident Liu Xiaobo

By Stuart Leavenworth, McClatchy Foreign Staff

BEIJING — China reacted brusquely Wednesday to a vote in the U.S. Congress that approved renaming a street outside the Chinese embassy in Washington after China’s most famous political prisoner.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, labeled as “purely a farce” the vote by the House Appropriations Committee to name the street for Liu Xiaobo, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 2009 for “inciting subversion of state power.” Liu’s crime was gathering signatures for a human rights charter similar to one that helped end communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

Liu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, angering China’s Communist Party and raising his profile but doing little so far to expedite his release.

In an effort to increase pressure on China, the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved an amendment to a must-pass State Department spending bill that directs the secretary of state to rename the street outside the Chinese embassy “Liu Xiaobo Plaza.”

If the full House of Representatives passes the bill, as is expected, and the Senate and President Barack Obama also approve it, the official address of the Chinese embassy would become 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza.

“Every piece of incoming mail to the embassy would bear the name of the imprisoned Nobel laureate,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who proposed the amendment and who’s one of China’s most vehement U.S. critics.

Wolf’s pressure play has been all but ignored by the media in China, where Liu’s name is “sensitive” and largely censored. Among Western experts on China, there’s been a debate on the wisdom of the congressional move, with some seeing it as the latest “tit for tat” that prevents China and United States from fully engaging on issues that divide them.

Supporters note that Congress previously has renamed streets in Washington to honor international defenders of human rights. In 1984, it honored Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov by renaming part of the street in front of the Soviet embassy.

Wolf originally sought his amendment to highlight the 25th anniversary of China’s crackdown on the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations, of which Liu was an enthusiastic participant.

“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,” Wolf and other members of the House said in support of the amendment.

On Twitter and other social media, commenters have wondered whether China would retaliate by naming a street outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing after a U.S. nemesis, such as former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. When asked whether China would respond in such a manner, Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, smiled and dodged the question.

“What kind of measures do you think China should adopt?” she asked. She then issued a broadside against Liu, saying he’s “a criminal who has been sentenced according to law by Chinese judicial authority due to violation of Chinese law.”

Two hours before she spoke, U.S. Ambassador Max Baucus delivered his first substantive speech in China since he took the post earlier this year. Speaking to a Beijing luncheon of U.S. business organizations based in China, Baucus noted the strong economic ties between the countries and the commitment of Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to a “new model” of relations.

Baucus, however, also mentioned two issues that divide the two countries: cyberspying and human rights.

“In the past year, China has arrested several moderate voices who had peacefully advocated for such basic things as good governance and the rights of ethnic minorities and the rule of law,” Baucus said.

While Baucus didn’t name names, it was likely he was referring to Pu Zhiqiang, who was arrested last month, and Xu Zhiyong, who was sentenced to four years in prison earlier this year. Both were detained on charges similar to those that sent Liu to prison.

Before he became the ambassador, Baucus was a member of Congress for 38 years, including 35 in the Senate. It’s unknown how he views the House’s attempt to rename the street for Liu. According to U.S. embassy staff, the ambassador, after lunching with business leaders, didn’t have time to take questions Wednesday from reporters.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

Top Dissidents Detained In Cuba

By Juan O. Tamayo, The Miami Herald

MIAMI — Cuban police detained four top pro-democracy activists and at least 40 other dissidents in a crackdown Wednesday that also saw an independent journalist beaten by a suspected State Security agent in civilian clothes, according to activists.

Most of the opposition activists were freed later in the day, but the crackdown added to the perception that the Raul Castro government has been turning increasingly tough, and at times violent, on dissent.

Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, and his wife, Yris Perez Aguilera, were detained during an early-morning police raid of their home in the town of Placetas, said the Miami-based Cuban Democratic Directory.

Ladies in White leader Berta Soler, her husband, Angel Moya, and at least 30 other women and 15 men were carted off by police as they headed to a Havana trial involving a member of the women’s group, said independent journalist Roberto de Jesus Guerra.

Guerra said a man he believed to be a State Security agent intercepted him on a Havana street and without saying a word punched him repeatedly in the face until other men in civilian clothes approached and told him: “That’s enough. Leave him.”

Photo via Flickr

Chinese Dissident, In TV Shaming, Apologizes For Spilling Secrets

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — One of China’s most venerable dissident journalists was paraded on state television Thursday morning, apologizing for spilling state secrets that embarrassed the Chinese Communist Party.

The public shaming of Gao Yu, a 70-year-old grandmother who had written widely about the pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, was perhaps the most shocking in a recent series of on-air confessions.

“I believe that what I did broke the law and harmed the interests of the country. This was extremely wrong,” Gao, wearing an orange prison vest, said in the televised broadcast. “I sincerely and earnestly accept this lesson and I want to confess.”

Chinese state media described Gao as leaking state secrets, leading some commentators to call her China’s Edward Snowden. But the leaked document in question appears to have been ideological guidelines distributed to cadres last year by the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The so-called Document No. 9 railed against seven subversive elements — Western democracy, human rights, civic participation, neo-liberalism, independent media, questioning the history of the Chinese Communist Party and questioning China’s economic policy.

The ideas were widely reported in the foreign media, as well as in Communist Party journals, but Gao is accused of having obtained the full text of the document in June and of giving it to the Chinese-language website of Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.

Gao’s arrest, coming almost a year after the alleged crime, appears timed to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, military crackdown at Tiananmen Square, one of the most sensitive dates on the Chinese calendar.

“The government is trying to intimidate anybody who might discuss June 4 — that this is a taboo topic and that this is what will happen to you if you discuss it,” said Zhang Lifan, a Communist Party historian based in Beijing.

It is customary before the June 4 anniversary for the Chinese government to keep activists under house arrest as a precaution, but this year it has happened sooner and with more vigor than in the past.

Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent lawyer, was arrested early Monday morning after hosting a seminar for writers and academics on the Tiananmen Square crackdown at this home over the weekend. He was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catch-all charge often leveled against activists. At least four others who attended the session have also been detained.

Ironically, Gao was supposed to attend the same event at Pu’s home, but didn’t show up because she was already in detention. She had disappeared mysteriously from her home a week before, her whereabouts unknown until her appearance on television Thursday morning.

The broadcast on Gao was aired at 6.30 a.m., when viewership is low, and her face was blurred during the broadcast — courtesies that suggest she will be treated leniently in return for the confession.

Televised confessions — a legacy of the Communist custom of self-criticism — have become common fixtures on Chinese television the last few years. Among those trotted out for the cameras of late have been Charles Xue, a Chinese American blogger, a GlaxoSmithKline executive and a journalist.

Still, the roundup of activists is a disappointment for Chinese liberals, many of whom had enthusiastically predicted that Xi Jinping, who took over as president last year, would allow more candid discussion of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“Twenty-five years of official impunity is enough — it is high time for the Chinese authorities themselves to face the truth, assume responsibility for their actions, and begin the healing process for the nation,” Sharon Hom, director of the New York-based organization Human Rights in China, said in a statement released Thursday.

According to the organization, Chinese authorities also have banned Ding Zilin, a prominent activist, from Beijing until after the June 4 anniversary. Ding, whose 17-year-old son was shot to death in 1989, is the best-known member of Tiananmen Mothers, a support group for families of victims. Anywhere from several hundreds to thousands of people were killed during the crackdown again demonstrators in 1989.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston