U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, is calling on his congressional colleagues to vote on a bill to rename the street address of China's embassy in Washington to 1 Liu Xiaobo Plaza, after the imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate.
The Senate in February unanimously passed a similar bill — introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a presidential candidate — but companion legislation in the House remains active.
McGovern, who co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, says colleagues should put it to a vote if China doesn't release Liu, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting state subversion after organizing a 2008 petition to end China's one-party rule.
"If the Chinese government thinks it can just jail everybody and everybody will just forget about it, they are wrong," he told VOA's Mandarin Service. "That's why the legislation that would rename that street in front of the Chinese embassy would pass."
The White House has indicated that President Barack Obama would veto the bill if passed by both houses of Congress.
"If the president wants to veto it, he can, but I think there is an overwhelming number of Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate that might override that veto," McGovern said.
It's not clear if or when the House of Representatives might vote on the bill.
The State Department says that although the White House continues to press China on human rights issues, the bill would complicate efforts to release political prisoners such as Liu.
"We do not believe Senator Cruz's tactic to rename a street in Washington, D.C., is a very effective way to achieve either goal," said Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson of the State Department. "We view this kind of legislative action as something that really complicates our efforts. So we oppose this approach."
China's foreign ministry warned of "serious consequences" should the plaza be renamed after the pro-democracy dissident, calling the move a violation of "basic norms of international relations."
Produced in collaboration with VOA's Mandarin Service.