Edward Snowden, the U.S. government contractor who was identified as the source of recent disclosures about the secret National Security Agency data-gathering initiative, PRISM, has fled to the Chinese-owned island of Hong Kong. Chinese netizens, who are very familiar with living under government surveillance, have expressed admiration for Snowden revealing the secrets, but are more skeptical about his decision to come knocking on their door.
According to the China Real Time blog on the Wall Street Journal, many Chinese have expressed confusion as to why Snowden fled to the East. “Won’t American people say he doesn’t love his country?” one blogger posted on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media service. Though Hong Kong’s government operates separately from the mainland – meaning its own netizens are also not subject to the Great Firewall -- many believe that Hong Kong won’t deal with Snowden without consulting Beijing first.
“I don’t know if we are in the position to offer him help… he knows China’s central government is the same, right?” another blogger wondered. “Well, choosing to involve Hong Kong will definitely add to the conversation,” another Weibo user posted, referencing the U.S. and China’s ongoing back-and-forth accusations regarding hacking and security. Others were less concerned as to why he was in Hong Kong, and instead focused on praising Snowden for his bravery. “This is the definition of heroism,” another blogger wrote, expressing a sentiment that was shared by several others. “Doing this proves he genuinely cares about this country and about his country’s citizens. All countries need someone like him!”
Still, other commentators noted the peculiar timing of the revelation of PRISM, which initially broke just ahead of the much anticipated “laid-back” Sunnylands Summit between U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s Premier Xi Jinping -- where, among other issue, cyber-security was prominent on the agenda. For the most part, Chinese state-media doesn’t have much to say on the subject, perhaps only subtly embracing the news of the recently-revealed PRISM monitoring program--which is basically a collaborative effort between government and popular Internet institutions -- as part of the mounting evidence of U.S. “spying and hacking” activities that China previously insisted occurred.
Mainland Chinese media are not doing much reporting on Snowden specifically, preferring to focus on the Obama-Xi summit over the weekend, as other foreign publications frantically cranked out stories about the informant’s whereabouts. However, among the more vocal of China’s mainstream publications is the Global Times, a tabloid subsidiary publication of the Communist Party-run newspaper, the People’s Daily. The Global Times ran an article about “the latest online spy game,” accompanied by a cartoon of the NSA emblem, with the central eagle dressed in spy-like garb.