Beijing Wants To Stay Out Of Snowden NSA Whistleblower Case, Communist Party Says

Snowden 18 June 2013
People carrying mobile phones walk past a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, in Hong Kong on June 18. Reuters

Many have been curious about Beijing’s unusually quiet response to Edward Snowden’s presence in Hong Kong. Though Snowden reportedly picked China’s island territory because it is governed separately from the mainland and has a “spirited commitment to free speech,” many are still wondering if China’s central government will act on the developing case of the NSA whistleblower.

The Chinese state-run newspaper, the People’s Daily, which also serves as the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, carried a statement saying that the government was uninterested in getting involved in other people’s “mess.” The piece also rejected accusations that the cybersecurity whistleblower had any contact with China’s government and was, in fact, a spy for China, calling the claims baseless and saying that the rumors were “a cloud to the clear sky of the Sino-US relationship.”

Though Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chin-ying, has said that the Hong Kong government plans to handle Snowden’s case “in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong,” which are separate from Beijing, many are still curious if Beijing will intervene.

Another state-run official newspaper, the Global Times, published a commentary Wednesday on the Snowden case. The commentary said that Hong Kong’s government should let the case play out independently of what the implications may be for PRC-US relations. This, according to a Beijing university professor, means that the government does not want to be involved in the headline-grabbing case.

Professor Liu Jianming, a communication studies specialist at Tsinghua University in Beijing, told the South China Morning Post that the two pieces are indicators that Beijing has no plans of stepping in. “China is taking its usual position of not intervening in other countries’ affairs, but it cannot ignore verbal attacks that have twisted the truth,” he said.

The People’s Daily said the PRISM data mining project that is run by the NSA is “America’s trouble in the first place,” and has nothing to do with China. It wasn’t until accusations from various U.S. politicians and media pundits suggesting Snowden was a Chinese-employed spy that the government saw itself forced to defend itself from those trying to “create a new link between China and the scandal with their own imagination,” the editorial said.

Many speculated that Beijing’s silence is a result of not wanting to disrupt Sino-US relations, which continue to become more intertwined. “Cyberattacks, a weapon frequently used by the US government, have turned out to be its own Achilles’ heel. China is generous enough not to hype this incident in consideration of the Sino-US relationship,” the Global Times wrote.

Chinese media are taking the position that they have no obligation to the U.S. to extradite Snowden and overrule local Hong Kong procedure. “The ‘no comment’ attitude of the Chinese Central government and the ambiguous statements from the Hong Kong administration are the proper responses,” the Global Times said.

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