'Why Hong Kong?' Chinese wonder if Snowden is in wrong place

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 June, 2013, 11:13pm

China’s net users, who have shown lukewarm interest in Edward Snowden’s fate as the saga of the ex-CIA-turned-whistleblower unfurls in Hong Kong, now wonder why he had fled to a Chinese city in the first place.

Comments came after Chinese media reports unanimously failed to offer an explanation for Snowden's decision to hide in Hong Kong. 

Snowden failed to become a trending topic on Weibo on Tuesday -- the blogosphere was abuzz with talks about Apple’s soon-to-launch iOS7 and an alien hoax in Shandong -- but his story was picked up by a few mainstream publications, among them China Daily, an English-language mouthpiece of the Communist Party, the influential Beijing News and state television CCTV.

But all of the reports, for unspecified reasons, left out the part in which Snowden explained to the British newspaper The Guardian why he had chosen to flee to Hong Kong: "Hong Kong has a reputation for freedom in spite of the People's Republic of China."

“Isn’t government monitoring a norm?” a Chinese microblogger commented on Weibo. “Doesn’t our government do that daily?”

Sina Weibo is among the most closely watched online platforms by the Chinese government. Censors scrutinise online activities of its 500 million registered users around the clock. 

Besides wondering why this is news at all, more bloggers seemed confused why Snowden, 29, had fled to China.

“Kid, we have a much more powerful surveillance system in China,” one wrote. “Coming here is suicide.”

"I strongly demand China grant him asylum," wrote another micoblogger who hailed Snowden as a hero. "It's time for our country to share the responsibilities of a super power."

Peng Zengjun, a journalism professor at Saint Cloud State University in Minnesota, in the US, said the Chinese media's lack of enthusiasm might be explained by their intention to protect themselves from censorship and future retaliation at a "sensitive time".

China's Communist Party leaders have issued a circular warning officials of "dangerous Western values", signaling a more conservative, authoritarian path in the first months of Xi Jinping's presidency.

"Nobody is absolutely sure where the country is headed," Peng said. "And it's safer to be conservative and stay away from such topics."