NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s flight to Hong Kong might be a vote-of-confidence in the city’s tradition of free speech, but it creates a difficult problem for the government to handle, Hong Kong’s Chinese-language papers say.
Sing Tao Daily hailed the 29-year-old ex-CIA worker’s choice of the city as a testament to its efforts to protect freedom of speech. “This is free promotion for Hong Kong’s shield over free speech,” it said in its editorial.
But the newspaper said Snowden’s presence also meant the city was being watched by the whole world and must handle his case delicately.
“Snowden wears the whistleblower’s crown and is now the focus of the world’s attention. The whole world will evaluate Hong Kong’s freedom of speech status with what happened to him here.”
Oriental Daily described Snowden as an unwelcome visitor whose presence posed a dilemma for the Hong Kong government. With the looming prospect of a request for the extradition of Snowden back to the United States, the newspaper said the city would face a choice between losing the moral high ground on human rights or tainting its reputation for rule of law.
“If Uncle Sam requests that Hong Kong repatriates him, it will be a big problem,” the daily said.
“Hong Kong bureaucrats will be slammed unforgivingly if they surrender Snowden because the man blew the whistle for the sake of human rights,” it says.
But if Hong Kong refuses to surrender him, the newspaper said “the US will probably accuse the city of failing to uphold the rule of law by sheltering a criminal.”
Ming Pao Daily said in its editorial the Snowden case was now a test of Beijing’s promise to maintian the “one country, two systems” formula — which allows Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.
The newspaper raised the possibility of a not-so-welcoming scenario in which the US pressures Hong Kong via Beijing to accept an extradition request.
“If that happens, it would be inappropriate for the central government to intervene. Forcing Hong Kong to hand Snowden to the US is equal to showing the US that Hong Kong’s autonomy does not exist,” it said.
The best thing for Beijing to do was to keep its hands off the case, said the newspaper.
“The most appropriate way is to let Hong Kong handle the case in accordance with its extradition treaty, take no side, and leave it to the courts if Snowden seeks asylum from other countries.”
The pro-Beijing Wenweipo newspaper said Snowden’s case showed that the US was applying a double-standard on human rights and freedom when it criticised China on the same issues.