Street beside Chinese embassy should be renamed after 'whistleblower doctor' Li Wenliang, US lawmakers propose

Sending China a powerful message.

Kayla Wong| May 08, 01:02 PM

Lawmakers in the United States have proposed renaming the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington after the late "whistle-blower" doctor in Wuhan who tried to warn others about the coronavirus before being persecuted by local police.

1 Li Wenliang Plaza

Under new bills introduced by Republicans in both the Senate and House, the street would be officially changed from 3505 International Plaza to 1 Li Wenliang Plaza, The Washington Post reported.

A power move

The bill's House sponsor, Republican Liz Cheney, said in a statement that "while the Chinese Communist Party caused the virus to be spread around the globe, resulting in death and economic devastation, brave medical professionals like Dr. Li spoke truth to the regime".

She added that she is "honoured" to introduce the legislation.

Another Republican senator, Tom Cotton, said the move would ensure that the name Li Wenliang "is never forgotten", The Guardian reported.

Not the first time

Lawmakers had previously proposed renaming the street in 2014 to "1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza" after the late Nobel prize winner, who died in 2017 while serving a jail sentence in China for calling out the one-party rule.

China had strongly condemned the move, and the bill later fizzled when then-President Barack Obama's administration opposed the bill, and was expected to veto it in order to work with China.

The move this time round is once again expected to incur Beijing's wrath.

Lawmakers announce new China task force

The proposed bill came as a new "China Task Force" was announced by the Republicans to look into China's "cover-up" of the virus outbreak, and stamp out China's influence, Axios reported.

The move was opposed by the Democrats, who said they are "not going to go along" with helping China to be the Trump administration's "scapegoat for its utter failure".

This is in spite of the bipartisan consensus that the U.S. needs a China policy that recognises China's authoritarian ways and the threat its rising influence poses to the country.

China as a whipping boy for Trump?

The U.S. President Donald Trump has hardened his stance towards China as he faces mounting criticism for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis, rising unemployment and a tanking economy.

While there is speculation that Trump's aggressive rhetoric towards China arose out of a desire to find a whipping boy to blame, Clete Willems, a former trade official from the Trump administration told CNBC that is not the case.

This is because there has been growing frustrations within the administration, and that the pandemic simply amplified such voices, he said.

Pew Research Center survey from March have found that while Republicans held a more unfavourable opinion of China, anti-China views were shared across party lines.

Rising hostility between the two countries has also fuelled talks that both powers are sliding into a "new Cold War".

China grieved for Li

Li's death had sparked a nationwide outpouring of grief, and a rare apology from the authorities.

News of his passing was also speculated to have been delayed after Chinese state media outlets such as Global Times retracted its report on his death, while other outlets subsequently reported that Li was still alive.

Li was hailed as a whistle-blower who was wrongly persecuted, despite him not necessarily wanting the public to know of his warning -- Li had corresponded with some other doctors in a chat group and specifically told them to keep the information to themselves.


Top image via Google Maps & Weibo