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Sen. Cruz: America Must Confront the Truth About Chinese Oppression

Delivers speech and asks Senate to rename plaza in front of Chinese embassy after pro-democracy dissident and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize Dr. Liu Xiaobo

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today delivered a speech on the Senate floor asking colleagues for unanimous consent to  his resolution that would rename the plaza in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C. as “Liu Xiaobo Plaza,” after Dr. Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been imprisoned, along with his wife, Liu Xia, for seeking basic human rights denied to him by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Detained in 2008, Dr. Liu continues to be unjustly imprisoned under the authority of PRC President Xi Jinping. Dr. Liu is most notably known for publishing “Chapter 08,” an anti-Communist manifesto calling for political freedom and human justice. Sen. Cruz invoked the example of the bipartisan legislation passed by Congress to rename the street in front of the (then) Soviet embassy “Andrei Sakharov Plaza” in solidarity with the courageous Russian dissident, and called on his colleagues to apply this honor to Dr. Liu on the eve of President Xi’s visit. 

“Dr. Liu’s enormous courage and willingness to voluntarily sacrifice not only his own freedom, but also that of those most dear to him, poses a challenge to the free world.  Will we be silent, eager to enjoy the economic benefits of cooperation with the PRC? Or will we put President Xi on notice that for America, human rights are no longer ‘off the table,’ and that we are listening to the truth about Communist China. I believe that the freedom championed by Dr. Liu is possible for all the Chinese people. I believe that from Tiananmen Square to Taiwan the evidence is clear that the Chinese desire—and are capable of—democracy.  I believe that we have a moral responsibility not to marginalize Dr. Liu and his brave fellow dissidents, but to make their plight central to all our dealings with the PRC.” 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) objected to Sen. Cruz’s request and prevented the resolution from moving forward.

Sen. Cruz’s floor speech in its entirety can be read below and video can be viewed here.

“Mr. President, in 1975 Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov was awarded a Nobel Peace for his public opposition to the totalitarian Communism of the Soviet Union. He knew what he was talking about as he had spent decades working on the Soviet nuclear weapons program, work he had originally thought a patriotic duty that would ensure the balance of power with the United States, but that he came to understand was in the service of a brutal, oppressive regime with aggressive intentions.

 “The Soviets prohibited Sakharov from accepting the award in person, although his wife Yelena Bonner was abroad at the time. She accepted on his behalf and delivered his seminal speech ‘Peace, Progress and Human Rights.’ In it, Sakharov declared: ‘I am convinced that international confidence, mutual understanding, disarmament, and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, the right to publish, and the right to travel and choose the country in which one wishes to live. I am likewise convinced that freedom of conscience, together with the other civic rights, provides the basis for scientific progress and constitutes a guarantee that scientific advances will not be used to despoil mankind, providing the basis for economic and social progress, which is in turn a political guarantee for the possibility of an effective defense of social rights.’ He recited the names of his fellow dissidents who were being persecuted by the Soviets. But he called for peaceful reform, not a violent revolution: ‘We must today fight for every individual person separately against injustice and the violation of human rights. Much of our future depends on this. In struggling to protect human rights we must, I am convinced, first and foremost act as protectors of the innocent victims of regimes installed in various countries, without demanding the destruction or total condemnation of these regimes…We need a pliant, pluralist, tolerant community, which selectively and tentatively can bring about a free, undogmatic use of the experience of all social systems.’ 

 “Sakharov was relieved of all his scientific duties and, after denouncing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 was banished to Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow on the Volga River to remove him from the public eye. His wife joined him in 1984 charged with anti-Soviet slander, and was prohibited from traveling abroad for medical treatment. Sakharov began a hunger strike in protest. Soviet Authorities detained and force-fed him.

 “In solidarity, President Ronald Reagan—who was then initiating his historic negotiations with the Soviets—proclaimed May 18, 1983 National Andrei Sakharov Day, and the following year the United States Congress passed a bipartisan measure renaming the mailing address of the Soviet Embassy from 1125 16th Street to No. 1 Andrei Sakharov Plaza. Every piece of mail delivered to or sent from the Embassy would thus bear the name of the courageous dissident the Soviets were trying to silence.

 “The following year, the Soviets allowed Bonner to travel abroad for heart surgery, and the year after that, Gorbachev allowed Sakharov and his wife to return to Moscow, although Sakharov remained critical of the slow speed of Gorbachev’s reforms until his death in 1989—just a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

 “The bravery of Andrei Sakharov was instrumental in bringing down a great empire.  Armed only with the truth he was able to expose to the world the reality of Soviet Communism, the futility of trying to placate or domesticate the regime, and the power of standing for human rights.

 “Today, we have a case before us that is eerily reminiscent of Sakharov’s legacy. Dr. Liu Xaiobo, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, sits today in a Chinese jail for the crime of subversion.

 “A poet, author, and political scientist, Dr. Liu was in 1989 a visiting scholar at Columbia University. But when the pro-democracy protests broke out in Beijing in June of that year, he returned to China to aid the movement. He staged a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square in the midst of the historic student protests and insisted the protests would be non-violent, even in the face of the violence threatened by the People’s Republic of China. 

 “The PRC arrested Liu for his involvement in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and sentenced him to two years in prison. In 1996 the Party subjected him to three years of ‘reeducation through labor’ for questioning the single-party system.

 “In 2004, the PRC cut Liu’s phone lines and internet connection after he published an essay criticizing the Party’s campaign to silence ‘subversive’ journalists and activists.

 “In 2008, Liu, along with over 350 Chinese intellectuals and human rights advocates, penned ‘Charter 08,’ a manifesto modeled after the Czech ‘Charter 77’—an anti-Communist manifesto written in 1977 by Vaclav Havel and others calling for human rights and political reforms in the Soviet republics.

 “Dr. Liu’s ‘Charter 08’ made 19 specific demands of the PRC, including abandoning one-party rule in favor of instituting a separation of powers composed of a legislative democracy and independent judiciary; abolition of the “Hukou” housing system that has victimized poor and rural Chinese for decades; and securing freedom of association, assembly, expression, and religion.

 “‘Charter 08’ was released on December 10, 2008. Although the Communist Party quickly censored it, over 10,000 journalists, scholars, businessmen, and teachers have signed the document since 2008.

 “Two days prior to Charter 08’s release (on the eve of the 100 year anniversary of China’s first constitution and the 30 year anniversary of Beijing’s ‘Democracy Wall’ movement), the PRC detained Liu for his involvement in this charter. In June 2009 he was officially arrested and charged with ‘inciting subversion of state power’ for his co-authorship of Charter 08.

 “After being detained for over a year, Liu pled not guilty to ‘inciting subversion of state power’ before the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court on December 23, 2009. His defense was not allowed to present evidence, and on Christmas Day Liu was sentenced to 11 years in prison with an additional two years’ deprivation of all political rights. Beijing High Court rejected his appeal two months later.

 “In October 2010, Liu Xiaobo received the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in writing and publishing Charter 08. Like Sakharov, he could not attended in person but accepted in abstentia, boldly declaring in his acceptance speech: ‘Hatred can rot away at a person's intelligence and conscience. Enemy mentality will poison the spirit of a nation, incite cruel mortal struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and hinder a nation's progress toward freedom and democracy. That is why I hope to be able to transcend my personal experiences as I look upon our nation's development and social change, to counter the regime's hostility with utmost goodwill, and to dispel hatred with love.’ 

 “The very moment the Nobel Commission awarded the Peace Prize to Liu, his wife Liu Xia was taken into custody by the PRC. She penned an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2013 decrying her unjust arrest and detention: ‘I have been under house arrest and have lost all my personal freedoms since October 2010. No one has told me any reasons for detaining me. I have thought about it over and over. Perhaps in this country it’s a ‘crime’ for me to be Liu Xiaobo’s wife.”

 “Both Liu Xaiobo and Liu Xia remain in prison today.

 “The opening paragraph of Charter 08 captures the entirety of Liu Xiaobo’s lifework: ‘Having experienced a prolonged period of human rights disasters and challenging and tortuous struggles, the awakening Chinese citizens are becoming increasingly aware that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, republicanism, and constitutional government make up the basic institutional framework of modern politics. A ‘modernization’ bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives people of their rights, rots away their humanity, and destroys their dignity. Where is China headed in the 21st century? Will it continue with this ‘modernization’ under authoritarian rule, or will it endorse universal values, join the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic form of government? This is an unavoidable decision.’ 

 “Dr. Liu’s enormous courage and willingness to voluntarily sacrifice not only his own freedom, but also that of those most dear to him, poses a challenge to the free world.  Will we be silent, eager to enjoy the economic benefits of cooperation with the PRC?  Or will we put President Xi on notice that for America, human rights are no longer ‘off the table,’ and that we are listening to the truth about Communist China.

 “I believe that the freedom championed by Dr. Liu is possible for all the Chinese people.  I believe that from Tiananmen Square to Taiwan the evidence is clear that the Chinese desire—and are capable of—democracy.  I believe that we have a moral responsibility not to marginalize Dr. Liu and his brave fellow dissidents, but to make their plight central to all our dealings with the PRC.

 “And for that reason we should follow the example of Ronald Reagan. We should follow the example of standing up to oppression, standing up to the Soviet Union’s oppression of Andrei Sakharov. For that reason, in solidarity with the Chinese people engaging in a long and non-violent struggle for basic human rights, I am asking my colleagues to join me in creating a new version of Sakharov Plaza by naming the street in front of the People’s Republic of China’s Embassy in Washington, DC ‘Liu Xaiobo Plaza’. 

 “This would be the street sign that the Chinese ambassador would look at each day. This would be the address that every piece of correspondence going into the embassy and coming out of the embassy would have written on it. Just as with the Soviets when forced to recognize the bravery of Sakharov, the PRC officials will be forced to recognize the bravery of Dr. Liu and to acknowledge it dozens of times a day – day after day after day. I realize that this is an expedited request, but given the ongoing repression, not only of Liu’s, but of so many other voices for political and religious freedom in China and the eminent arrival of the Chinese leader who directly responsible for it, I hope that my colleagues will join me. I intend to introduce a unanimous request for consent, and it is my hope that all 100 senators will stand with me. But for the moment, I yield the floor.” 

“Madam President, I would note this is a sad day for this body when standing up to the Soviet Union, Democrats and Republicans were able to come together in support of Andrei Sakharov, and it worked. It made a difference, speaking up for human rights. The senior senator from California's correct that this was expedited, and she is correct as to why, as I just said on this floor speech, the presence of President XI in this country is precisely the reason that we should stand in unanimity in support of human rights. It is what makes it timely until a few minutes ago, we had been informed that there were no objections on both the Democratic side and the Republican side. And it saddens me, I know there are many Chinese-Americans in the state of California, there are many Chinese-Americans in the state of Texas and across the country. There are millions of Americans who care for human rights. Just this morning, we sat on the floor of the House of Representatives and listened to Pope Francis talk about putting aside petty partisan differences and coming together with a voice of compassion. 

 “Madam President, Dr. Liu is in a Chinese prison, and the senior senator from California is standing and objecting to recognizing this Nobel Laureate's bravery, is standing and objecting because presumably it would embarrass his Communist captors. I, for one, think as Americans we should not be troubled by embarrassing Communist oppressors, and I would note, as the senior senator from California leaves the floor, that this is not an issue that is abstract to me. My family, like Dr. Liu, has been imprisoned by oppressive regimes. My father as a teenager was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba. He had his nose broken. He had his teeth shattered. He lay in the blood and grime of a prison cell. In Cuba, my aunt, my Tía Sonia, was a few years later imprisoned and tortured, this time by Castro – my father by Batista, my aunt by Castro – imprisoned and tortured by a communist regime. And it is a sad state when the United States of America cannot stand up and say: You who are imprisoned unjustly, we stand with you. 

 “If any of us listened to a word Pope Francis said this morning, that is a word we should have heard, that we should be a voice of freedom, a clarion voice of freedom across this globe. What we just saw on this Senate floor saddens me greatly. I understand that Democrats feel partisan loyalty to the White House and that this White House Secretary Clinton said at the beginning of the Administration: Human rights are off the table. America no longer stands for human rights. We will coddle up with oppressors if they make cheap calculators to sell in our stores. I think they are values that transcend the mighty dollar, and it is entirely possible to deal with foreign countries and yet maintain our principles and speak with unanimity. 

 “You know, a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit with Natan Sharansky, the famed Soviet dissident. He and I visited in Jerusalem. He talked to me about how when he was in the Soviet Gulag, the prisoners would pass from cell to cell notes: Did you hear what president Reagan said? Evil empire; Ash heap of history; Tear down this wall. That the leadership of the United States of America – and mind you, it wasn't partisan leadership – it was clear bipartisan leadership and America shined a light to the dark of those prison cells. 

 “Madam President, I pray today that Dr. Liu, in his prison cell, does not hear word that Democratic senators are unwilling to stand with him. That is heartbreaking at a level rarely seen. It's one thing for us to disagree on partisan matters. We can have disagreements over the appropriate rate of capital gains taxes, but for standing with an oppressed Nobel Peace Laureate, for standing up to Communist oppression, that should not be a partisan divide. The objection raised by the senior senator from California is deeply disappointing, and I intend to continue to press this issue because the voice of America, the voice for freedom that Pope Francis urged us to aspire to will not be extinguished. It is who we are. It is essential to our character and to our integrity.”  EndFragment