Wednesday’s revelation by NSA Leaker Edward Snowden has given China the rare opportunity to affect a sanctimonious tone in editorials published in its state-owned media.
“The massive U.S. global surveillance program revealed by a former C.I.A. whistle-blower in Hong Kong is certain to stain Washington’s overseas image and test developing Sino-U.S. ties,” said China Daily
“For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage, but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the U.S. is the unbridled power of the government,” said China Foreign Affairs University American studies professor Li Haidong in the China Daily piece.
Snowden’s revelation last week that the NSA had been recording the phone conversations of millions of Americans and their overseas contacts hadn’t prompted any statements from China until the spate of articles appearing on Thursday.
They appear to have been triggered mainly by the interview Snowden gave Wednesday to the South China Morning Post in which he revealed that the US had accessed hundreds of computers in Hong Kong and China since 2009. He expressed the belief that the NSA had “61,000 hacking operations globally”, with hundreds of targets in Hong Kong and in China.
“We hack network backbones – like huge internet routers, basically – that give us access to the communications of hundreds of thousands of computers without having to hack every single one,” he told SCMP.
Snowden is presumed to have gained access to such information as a former CIA IT specialist who more recently had been working at the NSA as an employee of the contractor Booz Allen Hamilton before abruptly leaving for Hong Kong over the weekend to seek asylum from Justice Department charges.
After days of global media speculation as to whether Snowden will leave for another haven, on Thursday morning he announced his decision to fight extradition in Hong Kong.
“People who think I made a mistake in picking Hong Kong as a location misunderstand my intentions,” he told SCMP. “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.
“I have had many opportunities to flee HK, but I would rather stay and fight the United States government in the courts, because I have faith in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
Observers have questioned the soundness of Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong which has had a long history of cooperation with US law enforcement on extradition requests. The city is officially a special administrative region of China, but the 1997 handover agreement with the UK ensures that it will be accorded a high degree of autonomy in its social system.
On the other hand, Beijing enjoy direct political control over the SAR through its power to appoint its chief executive. Therefore, to some observers Snowden’s decision to fight extradition in Hong Kong suggests that he may have been given secret assurances that he won’t be extradited. Thursday’s sanctimonious rhetoric in China’s official media suggests Beijing may be preparing to pressure Hong Kong to deny extradition on the ground that Snowden’s alleged crime is, in fact, a political act that advances the interests of people in Hong Kong as well as the United States and is deserving of protection from persecution.
The US has asserted that the monitoring and recording of phone conversations and internet communications is a necessary part of its efforts to prevent terrorist acts against Americans. It credits the program with preventing at least a handful of terrorist plots from being carried out.