Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong generally viewed the departure of American whistle-blower Edward Snowden as a relief for the city.
The former CIA technician left on a flight for Moscow on Sunday, just hours after the United States asked Hong Kong authorities to detain the 30-year-old and shortly after the release of court documents in the US detailing some of the charges he would face there.
Ming Pao Daily said on Monday that Snowden’s stay in Hong Kong presented it with a difficult situation, in which accepting a US extradition request would damage the city’s ethical image while refusing it would hurt the city adherence to rule of law and its ties with the US.
It said that the Hong Kong government had little room to manoeuvre sandwiched as it was between Beijing and Washington, and any action that it could have taken on Snowden's case would have led to suspicion that it had come from the central government.
“Now that Snowden has left for a third country before the Hong Kong government could take action, a troubling political time bomb has been defused,” the newspaper said in its editorial.
Oriental Daily newspaper said that by letting Snowden fly to a third country, the Hong Kong government had picked the “lesser evil” of the three options available.
Extradition, it said, would have undermined Hong Kong’s freedom of speech, and letting Snowden’s case to go to the courts would have allowed it to drag on for up to five years.
“During that time Snowden could reveal further human rights and privacy infringement scandals involving the US,” it said. “This might make US government angry with Hong Kong and possibly even China, leading it to adopt more aggressive policies against Beijing.”
The newspaper also said China’s hesitant stance over Snowden showed it was not a superpower. “China would not even dare to keep the US spy,” it said. “China cannot afford to confront the US, but it can let Snowden go.”
Sing Tao Daily attributed Snowden’s abrupt departure to uncertainties over the Hong Kong government’s stance on granting him asylum and over the outcome of lengthy proceedings if he took his case to the courts.
“The US request for the arrest and extradition of Snowden was imminent,” the newspaper said. “He might have felt it unwise to risk staying in Hong Kong any longer”.
Snowden flew to Hong Kong from Hawaii about two weeks ago with a cache of documents on US secret global surveillance programmes. During his time in the city he stayed in secret locations releasing some of his information and pondering his next move and how to respond to possible US actions.
He earlier told the South China Morning Post that the US had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and the mainland since 2009.