This morning’s revelations that the man who blew the whistle on the National Security Agency’s surveillance scheme is holed up in Hong Kong came as a shock to everyone. The general reaction from China watchers can be summarised as: Hong Kong? Really?!
— Clement Tan 陈永强 (@clemtan) June 10, 2013
Hong Kong is not a sovereign country. It is part of China — a country that by the libertarian standards Edward Snowden says he cares about is worse, not better, than the United States. It has even more surveillance of its citizens (it has gone very far to ensuring that it knows the real identity of everyone using the internet); its press is thoroughly government-controlled; it has no legal theory of protection for free speech; and it doesn’t even have national elections. Hong Kong lives a time-limited separate existence, under the “one country, two systems” principle, but in a pinch, it is part of China.
I don’t know all the choices Snowden had about his place of refuge. Maybe he thought this was his only real option. But if Snowden thinks, as some of his comments seem to suggest, that he has found a bastion of freer speech, then he is ill-informed; and if he knowingly chose to make his case from China he is playing a more complicated game.
So effectively, Edward Snowden throws himself at mercy of Chinese leadership – well known advocates of Internet freedom
— Angus Walker (@anguswalkeritv) June 10, 2013
He says in the article that his highest hope is get asylum in Iceland. I can pretty much guarantee you that that’s not going to happen. A small country that wants to be close friends of the United States is not going to do that. I could see arguments for Russia or Venezuela or perhaps Iran. But of all the places where you might have a shot at not getting extradited, China’s not a bad choice. Hong Kong might even give you the best of both worlds, hosted by repressive government which is a US rival and yet living in a city with Western standards of openness, wealth, etc.
Whatever happens regarding the Snowden issue, I think we’re all about to find out how ‘independent’ Hong Kong really is. #Snowden
— Rob Schmitz (@rob_schmitz) June 10, 2013
Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the U.S., which was negotiated with Beijing’s participation in 1997, just before Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule. Criminal suspects have been sent from Hong Kong to the U.S., including those involved in cases of financial fraud, insider trading, terrorism, and child abuse, according to news reports.
But there is a big “but” in the U.S.-Hong Kong extradition treaty. During the negotiations, Beijing got a provision put in the treaty that gives the mainland government the right to veto an extradition request if the request affects Beijing’s “defense, foreign affairs, or essential public interest or policy.”
That would seem to give Beijing the opportunity to take any extradition request out of Hong Kong’s hands.
— Stuart Morris (@foundinchina) June 10, 2013
The combination of a comparatively liberal civic culture and the sovereignty of Beijing, America’s great Pacific rival with which it has an often testy relationship, seems to have been a factor in Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong. It may play to his advantage that Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping reportedly agreed to differ on cybersecurity issues in their weekend summit in California. Against this background, Snowden’s extradition might be seen in the party leadership in Beijing as a capitulation. But such calculations can change.
Seeking refuge in Hong Kong out of devotion to free speech is a bit like seeking refuge in Tibet out of devotion to Buddhism. #NSA
— Evan Osnos (@eosnos) June 10, 2013
I think we all know what happens to fugitives from US justice in Hong Kong guys (h/t SHist FB commenter): youtube.com/watch?v=W5Qo9N…
— James Griffiths (@jgriffiths) June 10, 2013
[Image credit: David Veksler]