June 24, 2013

Snowden's Hong Kong exit shows Chinese anger over spying

The Hong Kong government ostensibly said it allowed Snowden to leave because the U.S. request to provisionally arrest Snowden did not comply with legal requirements.

By Kelvin Chan / The Associated Press

HONG KONG — Officially, admitted leaker Edward Snowden was able to leave Hong Kong because U.S. authorities made a mistake in their arrest request, but the semiautonomous Chinese city also indicated displeasure over Snowden's revelation that the former British colony had been a target of American hacking.

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A TV screen shows a news report of Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Sunday.

AP

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Beijing, meanwhile, says it had nothing to do with allowing the former National Security Agency contractor to fly to Russia on Sunday. But analysts believe the move was orchestrated by China to avoid a prolonged diplomatic tussle with the U.S. over his extradition.

Snowden slipped out of Hong Kong on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow and was expected to transit through Cuba and Venezuela en route to possible asylum in Ecuador. His journey illustrates how the United States finds itself with few friends as it tries to apprehend the former CIA technician, who disclosed information on top-secret surveillance programs.

Snowden, who had been hiding in Hong Kong for several weeks, had also revealed to a local newspaper details about the NSA's hacking of targets in Hong Kong. The revelations ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing, which for months has been trying to counter U.S. accusations that its government and military are behind computer-based attacks against America.

The Hong Kong government said it allowed Snowden to leave because the U.S. request to provisionally arrest Snowden did not comply with legal requirements. However, the U.S. Justice Department rejected that claim, saying its request met all of the requirements of the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong government also mentioned that it asked the U.S. for more information on the hacking, suggesting the issue played some role in its decision.

While Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China, experts said Beijing orchestrated Snowden's exit to remove an irritant in Sino-U.S. relations.

"The central government had to have intervened since this is an issue of international relations and national security," said Shen Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.

Ultimately, Shen said, China compromised by deciding to neither grant Snowden protection nor hand him over as the U.S. requested. That approach has the advantage of heading off a crisis in relations with the U.S. and demonstrating to Washington that Beijing values the overall relationship over any advantage it might gain from keeping Snowden, Shen said. He said handing Snowden over would have been an unpopular move within China.

The Global Times, published by the ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial that Snowden "has performed a service" by uncovering "the sordid tale of how the U.S. government violates the rights of its citizens and conducts cyber spying throughout the entire world."

China's Foreign Ministry distanced itself from any role in Snowden's departure from Hong Kong, saying Monday the territory had the right to make its own decision.

In a routine briefing with reporters, Hua said Beijing has "always respected" Hong Kong's ability to deal with such matters through its legal system.

Hua also raised Beijing's concerns about cybersecurity in light of Snowden's allegations, saying that the Chinese government has brought the issue up directly with Washington.

"We are seriously concerned about the cyberattacks that the relevant U.S. government agencies carried out on China as have been recently reported," she said. "This demonstrates again that China is a victim of cyberattacks."

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