30-year-old American Edward Snowden, a contract employee at the National Security Agency, is the whistleblower behind significant revelations that surfaced in June 2013 about the US government's top secret, extensive domestic surveillance programmes. Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii in May 2013, and supplied confidential US government documents to media outlets including the Guardian.
Beijing 'will be very discreet' in dealing with HK over Snowden case
Central government will 'privately tell' Hong Kong its views, says top foreign policy adviser
The central government will be "very discreet" in handling the possible surrender of US whistle-blower Edward Snowden to the United States, according to a top foreign policy adviser to the Chinese leadership.
Beijing would "privately tell the Hong Kong government its views", the adviser said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They will be very discreet."
Beijing would let the legal authorities deal with questions of Snowden's possible asylum and extradition, the source said. "This issue is not being handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
He said the central government was aware of the hacking by the United States and would not seek to capitalise on the hacking revelations made by Snowden.
"China has no interest in turning this into a political case," he said. "These things happen every day and both sides know about it. There is nothing new to this case. Politicising it would make both sides lose."
In a veiled objection to possible extradition, a commentary in the Global Times yesterday said China should not let people think Snowden had chosen the wrong place by seeking refuge in Hong Kong, otherwise others with valuable information would not consider Hong Kong as a refuge in the future. "We should make sure the outcome of the Snowden (case) is not too bad," it said.
Still, analysts said, Snowden's revelations would complicate recently improved relations between China and the United States, with an early test likely at the China-US strategic and economic dialogue in Washington from July 8 to 12.
Vice-Premier Wang Yang and State Councillor Yang Jiechi will head the Chinese delegation in meetings with US counterparts led by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and Secretary of State John Kerry.
"The incident will definitely have some negative effect, or at least create an unfavourable atmosphere for the upcoming economic and strategic talks if it cannot be solved smoothly beforehand," Shi Yinhong , director of Renmin University's Centre of American Studies, said.
For months, the US government has demanded that Beijing rein in what it says is an extensive, military-sponsored hacking operation. During last weekend's summit between US President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping , cybersecurity topped the US agenda.
Zhu Feng , an expert on China-US relations at Peking University, said Snowden's case had put cybersecurity in the global spotlight and forced China and the US to seriously discuss the issue. "This case will make the topic the centre point of discussion at the upcoming SED talks as it has become so serious and so closely watched by the whole world that neither nation can afford to ignore it," Zhu said.
Shi said Snowden's claims would be helpful for China at the negotiating table because they provided it with ammunition to mute repeated US allegations of frequent Chinese hacking.
"Washington is now in an awkward position regarding its cybersecurity dispute with Beijing, and it has lost the moral high ground following the explosive revelations that the US has been hacking into computers in China for years," Shi said.