Edward Snowden

New US consul general Clifford Hart must rebuild trust after Snowden case

New US consul general Clifford Hart faces task of repairing damage from Snowden case

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 June, 2013, 5:07am

A veteran diplomat well-known in Asia takes over from Stephen Young next month as US consul general, and one of his first tasks will be to rebuild trust with Hong Kong law enforcement officials following the saga of cyberspying whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

Clifford Hart has had five postings in China - including two in Taiwan - and has a long history of advising the US government on the region. He has worked with the National Security Council on China affairs, as well as serving roles in the Soviet Union and Iraq.

"[Hart has] been involved in the six-party talks with North Korea, speaks Mandarin and has decades of experience working on Asia issues," said Ross Feingold, a senior advisor with DC International Advisory, which does political risk analysis in East Asia. "Ambassador Hart has the necessary qualifications to succeed Stephen Young."

Hart is the current United States envoy to the six-party talks - negotiations between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US seeking to dissuade North Korea from its nuclear ambitions. However, with the talks having stalled in 2009, Hart, who took up the role in 2011, has not attended any negotiations during his time.

"The timing is a challenge, as he must deal with the continued interest in the Snowden matter," Feingold said. "But both sides will move on from this."

Young said last week that Washington's confidence in Hong Kong had been "shaken" and that the trust built up between US law enforcement agencies and their counterparts in Hong Kong had taken a particular blow. The agencies have in the past cooperated closely with their Hong Kong counterparts on matters such as the US' pursuit of legal action against Kim Dotcom, the founder of internet file-sharing website Megaupload.

The government allowed Snowden, who leaked details of large-scale hacking and indiscriminate surveillance operations by the US National Security Agency, to leave Hong Kong last Sunday. Officials said they could not detain him because documents provided by the US government did not carry Snowden's correct full name and passport number.

The Hong Kong consulate plays a vital role in US efforts to understand China. The outgoing consul general adopted a high profile in Hong Kong, making the rounds of local politicians, getting to know members of the Legislative Council, Executive Council, pro-democracy advocates and members of the pro-establishment camp such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. He also met bankers, academics and businessmen.

Young has not been shy about speaking on the issue of universal suffrage, urging the city to start dialogue on electoral reforms early at his last appearance at the American Chamber of Commerce. Young's comments on universal suffrage drew criticism from the Office of the Commissioner of the Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong, which said the city's constitutional development was an internal matter and no government or official should interfere with, give instruction on, or make reckless comments about it.