US lawmakers have proposed renaming the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington after the late Wuhan doctor punished for warning about the spread of coronavirus, a step sure to outrage Beijing.
The measure would rechristen the section of the Washington street in front of the embassy “Li Wenliang Plaza”, instead of the innocuous current name of International Place.
Li was one of a group of doctors who shared posts on social media in December warning that a virus was spreading in Wuhan.
He was reprimanded by police and made to sign a statement promising not to commit any more “law-breaking actions.”
He died from the illness in February, triggering a nationwide outpouring of grief and a rare apology by police for his treatment.
“We’ll ensure the name Li Wenliang is never forgotten – by placing it permanently outside the embassy of the nation responsible for the deaths Dr Li tried to prevent,” said Tom Cotton, a Republican senator known for his hawkish views on China.
The measure, also backed by senator Marco Rubio, was introduced simultaneously in both chambers of Congress.
Lawmakers similarly proposed in 2014 to rename the street after Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel prize-winning writer who was imprisoned after calling for democratic reforms.
China denounced that effort and the proposal died in the House of Representatives after then president Barack Obama’s administration indicated he would veto it for the sake of cooperation with Beijing.
The US relationship with China has sharply deteriorated since then, with lawmakers of both parties backing a tough stance against the Pacific power.
Donald Trump’s administration has repeatedly sought to blame China for the spread of the pandemic, which has since killed more than 250,000 people worldwide.
Critics say the US president is trying to deflect attention from his handling of the crisis in the United States, which has suffered by far the highest number of COVID-19 deaths of any country.
China is not the only nation targeted by such symbolic action.
In 2018, Washington city council named a block outside the Russian embassy after Boris Nemtsov, one of president Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critics, who was shot dead in Moscow in 2015.
After the US proposal on Liu Xiaobo, some Chinese proposed naming the street outside the US embassy in Beijing after Edward Snowden, the former intelligence contractor who fled the United States to unveil government snooping on its citizens.
The US consulate in the Indian city of Kolkata, a stronghold of communists, lies on a street named after Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh.