For once, Leung Chun-ying and his administration have proved to be cleverer than their critics and even the Americans. The explosive revelations by Edward Snowden about pervasive US cyberspying have been a propaganda coup for Beijing, but his presence in Hong Kong was a major embarrassment for the administration. Many people were baying for a legal showdown in the courts for his extradition. By shipping him out quietly, Leung has avoided a legal and diplomatic quagmire.
Beijing yesterday praised Snowden as a young idealist who has "torn off Washington's sanctimonious mask". Well, you would say that if you had been handed such an unexpected diplomatic gift from the heavens. Many within Leung's office, however, will now worry about antagonising the US government by letting Snowden go.
But, in fact, there was no way to please the Americans other than binding and gagging Snowden onboard a one-way plane to a legal hell that would await him in the US. Yes, plenty of US allies, both democracies and dictatorships, have done just that for Uncle Sam in the US wars on terror and drugs. Fortunately, Hong Kong still respects human rights, unlike many US allies.
Alternatively, Snowden could go through a lengthy extradition process, the outcome of which was not certain to please the Americans; and it could drag on for months or even years. Far better was to get rid of Snowden, and upset the Americans just once quickly; and cross our fingers that they will not retaliate, at least not too severely. But we do have Beijing as our backup, which surely gives us a diplomatic advantage.
As to the minor point about the Americans not filing an extradition document properly, well, we can all roll our eyes. Sure, C. Y. whatever you say. The fact is that many people in and outside of Hong Kong support, or are sympathetic to, Snowden. Other than the US government, few people or governments will question Hong Kong's move.
It's not clear whether Leung came up with his clever chess move by himself or whether he was advised and approved by political gurus from Beijing. Regardless, he has avoided a huge headache for Hong Kong while the central government can continue to milk this scandal for all it's worth.