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Edward Snowden
CommentInsight & Opinion

US in no position to blame Hong Kong over Snowden

Bernard Chan says it can't shirk its responsibility in the intelligence leak

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 July, 2013, 3:09am

As someone who went to high school and college in the US, I have American friends. Some think I have an inside track on intelligence whistle-blower Edward Snowden and his dramatic stay in Hong Kong. The truth is I do not. But I do know that Hong Kong and China were not the ones at fault. US officials who blame Hong Kong for letting Snowden leave, or politicians who say he was spying for China, should look closer to home for someone to blame.

It was the US, not Hong Kong, that decided to operate a global electronic spying operation, which even some Americans now believe is out of control. If Snowden is correct, that system collects data from our own local internet network. It was the US, not Hong Kong, that decided directly or via outsourcing to use the services of a young man who turned out to be disloyal. Hong Kong or China are not to blame for the US government's policy or recruitment decisions.

US officials could have faced up to the fact that they did not have the moral high ground this time

Nor can anyone be blamed for wanting to avoid a possible sensitive human rights case here in Hong Kong. The US would have piled pressure on us and on the central government to send him back. Local and international public opinion would have demanded that he be protected.

Indeed, the affair became a hot domestic issue. Some local people protested against the US for invading our privacy and threatening to persecute Snowden. Others, including some who often speak out on human rights issues here or on the mainland, went silent.

I am sure our courts would have upheld the rule of law but, either way, Hong Kong could have lost far more goodwill.

As several commentators have said, Snowden's departure might actually have been better for the US. In that case, US officials' criticism of Hong Kong was more a way to save face in front of their domestic audience. But the whole episode has damaged relations between Hong Kong and the US. Americans will see us - or China as a whole - as the place that let a traitor go. Hong Kong and people in the rest of China will see the US as the country that hacked into our internet data.

Indeed, people around the world are complaining about US surveillance activities revealed by Snowden. American authorities say the intelligence gathering is subject to legal safeguards and is aimed at preventing terrorism, and they may have a point. It is also true to say that other countries have their own surveillance operations. Nonetheless, the Snowden affair has damaged the image of the US, and it has come at a sensitive time in US-China relations. It is the last thing anyone needed just after President Xi Jinping's (and Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's) US visit, and with issues like visa-free travel to the US for Hong Kong people under discussion.

Some people might see this episode as part of that big trend in international affairs: the decline of the US as the world's top power, and the rise of China in its place. I am not actually convinced about this. The US has problems, but its attraction to migrants and its past record tell us it could solve them. At the same time, China has demographic and other challenges of its own, and the arithmetic does not guarantee that it will surpass the US. In short, no one is in a position to be arrogant, and everyone should try to get along.

Unfortunately, the US response to Snowden's arrival in, and departure from, Hong Kong was insensitive. US officials could at least have accepted publicly that they saw why we don't like the idea of being hacked by them. They could at least have admitted some fault in using people who cannot be trusted. They could have faced up to the fact that - despite all their lecturing on human rights in the past - they did not have the moral high ground this time. Instead, they blamed Hong Kong and China.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council

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jayb
FINALLY!!!!
finally something other than "Bush's fault" -:)
hard times !
of course the Obama administration does not have the moral high ground this time in the case of Snowden Gate Incident which has caused Obama's popularity to further plunge as our chief executive in Hong Kong.just like the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by former president George Bush,America never gained the moral high ground.Invasion is invasion---so-called mass destructive weapons (maybe owned only by Israel in the Middle East) stored in Iraq was a big lie spinned by Bush administration ! No one with sense in this present world should put his trust on a frequent liar---Uncle Sam who used to believe,'might is right' as the sole super power in the world after 1990 ---the collapse of the Soviet Union.The public of the world should welcome/wish for the end of a sole super power and a balance of power (even a Cold War re-emerges) is needed to maintain a fairer and better world !
SpeakFreely
"Unfortunately, the US response to Snowden's arrival in, and departure from, Hong Kong was insensitive. US officials could at least have accepted publicly that they saw why we don't like the idea of being hacked by them. They could at least have admitted some fault in using people who cannot be trusted. They could have faced up to the fact that - despite all their lecturing on human rights in the past - they did not have the moral high ground this time. Instead, they blamed Hong Kong and China."
2 points I want to make.
1.As written below in my comments, had Hk government confirmed the truth of Snowden by actually conducted a legal process? If not based on what legal ground to believe what is 100% true or not?
2. Yes if US actually did that they should apologize somehow, but in my recollection had government of HK or China ever apologize or even admit for any wrong doings in history? I had never heard of june 4 apology, the jailing of Nobel winner, etc...HK government had done so much wrong doings to our people, when did they ever apologize or admit to the mistakes they made? I had never heard of.
SpeakFreely
If Hk is playing the rule of law, had Hk confirmed he is not guilty by benefits of doubt? How does Hk know for sure what he saying is true or false? Where he actually had committed a crime or not? So how countries trade extradition if each other decide for the other country by its rule of law and in this case Hk had not even investigate or put up a legal process who would Hk be in a position, by rule of law, that Snowden is committing crime or not? Where and how is the rule of law applied?
If there is a fugitive from US or HK suspected killing and both asked for extradition, how would each places decide by the rule of law? Can either one just claim due to human right issue, but without formal legal proceedings, to decide not too extradite?
My question is had Hk government done any legal proceeding to confirming all allegations before making this decision, if Hk government is following the rule of law so as speak. If not, how is the Hk government justifying we are following the rule of law.
SpeakFreely
In the Canadian case extraditing the tax evasion Chinese Lai, Canadian government put up a case for years under the eyes of public before extraditing Lai. But in this case HK had not even started the process. hK government argued they had not getting formal info from US to retain or arrest this guy ( i doubted if US Secretary Attorney General office called our our Secretary personally asking for help) on the other hand how Hk government knows for sure what Snowden saying or leaking is 100% accurate without putting up a court case? If we play by the rule of law.
By the rule of law, yes, US is wrong if they were proven wrong doing. But had we started a legal proceeding to prove that? The answer is No. Whether Hk should extradite or keep Snowden, where US is guilty of hacking, whether Snoden is suspect of wrong doing, all needs to be examined in the court if HK government is sticking to rule of Law. In this case hK government is selectively picking the evidence without a legal process.
SpeakFreely
If he is a hero, where is the hero in china, hk and Russia, and the rest of the world. It is naive not to think these places are doing exactly the same. I would be surprised china office in Hk in western district is not tapping Hk people. Only they were not get caught so far I guess.
hard times !
Just read the comments of most contributors to this Comment column in the past weeks,only a small bunch of guys supported Uncle Sam in Snowden Gate Incident.Most of us sympathized with this whistle-blower who risks his life and abandoning his family,girlfriend, a well-paid job and ...to disclose the dark sides of the NSA to the world ! The moral high ground is not on the side of America this time, for sure.It just can't blame either Chinese government or Hong Kong for allowing Snowden to leave for Russia on June 23rd !
 
 
 
 
 

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