CE tight-lipped on Snowden case as lawmakers urge government to tread carefully

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 5:50pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 June, 2013, 9:51pm

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying in New York remained tight-lipped about the Edward Snowden case as he has since it began, while a couple of lawmakers urged the Hong Kong government not to tarnish the city’s image when handling the case.

In a interview with Bloomberg Television in New York City, Leung was asked whether the government would take any action and whether it would comply if the US issued a warrant for Snowden’s arrest.

“I cannot comment on individual cases … I can only say that we follow existing laws and policies,” Leung said.

He declined to discuss further on these laws and policies, or whether Hong Kong, alone, could decide on the extradition of Snowden, adding: “We do not comment on or discuss any of these cases.”

I cannot comment on individual cases
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying

Asked how the “one country, two systems” principle applied to legal cases, Leung only said: “We have a different set of laws in Hong Kong; we have a different judicial system that is prescribed in our constitutional document called the Basic Law.”

Leung said he had no further comments on Hong Kong’s partnership with the US, adding that the city “co-operates with the United States in all areas - economics, financial services and so on.”

During the interview with Bloomberg, Leung was asked eight questions by the reporter about Snowden. The chief executive replied seven times that he “cannot comment on individual cases”.

On Tuesday, before a dinner in Leung's honour hosted by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council in New York, Leung was asked six questions by reporters about Snowden. He responded six times: "I have no comment on individual cases."

Leung returned to Hong Kong from New York on Thursday evening and when asked about the Snowden case he said, "I cannot comment on individual cases."

On Thursday in Hong Kong, Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing warned that the government should ensure Snowden’s personal rights and safety because Hong Kong’s international image could be tarnished seriously if the ex-CIA operative was extradited.

Pro-establishment lawmaker and lawyer Paul Tse Wai-chun also said he was worried that the city’s high degree of autonomy could be sacrificed if Beijing decided to take a reconciliatory approach on the issue.

The lawmakers’ comments came a day after Snowden told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that the US has been “trying to bully” Hong Kong’s government into extraditing him.

Snowden’s decision to use a city under Chinese sovereignty as his safe haven has caused a flurry of debate in the city over whether Beijing will seek to interfere in any extradition case involving him.

“As [Snowden] is now here, we hope the SAR government can make sure he is safe,” Lau said. “But if he suddenly disappeared and was taken back to Washington … it will deal a heavy blow to Hong Kong’s reputation.”

The government should handle the Snowden case carefully because of the international attention now focused on the city, she said

“Every step taken by the government will be under heavy scrutiny, and it must show everyone that it is not taking wrong steps all the time," Lau said. "Otherwise, it will become a joke around the world.”

She stressed that Snowden must be allowed, if he wishes, to take his case to the local courts and argue for his rights.

Lau added that the Democrats would look into Beijing’s possible role in the matter and scrutinise any of its actions.

Tse said he believed the national interest was Beijing’s main priority.

“We are not sure whether [Beijing’s] final decision will be a winning solution for [Beijing, Hong Kong and the US], or will compromise Hong Kong’s international reputation and high level of autonomy,” he said.

“China was criticised by the US for hacker activities, so could the two countries decide to compromise and avoid trouble?” Tse said.

He warned that if Snowden were sent back to the US without going through the local courts, it “could make Hong Kong appear very passive” and not as autonomous as it seemed.

Video: What does Hong Kong think about Edward Snowden? by Silvio Carrillo and Vicky Feng