China responded for the first time yesterday to the US cybersnooping programme exposed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, denying an allegation he was spying for Beijing and demanding that Washington explain the operation to the international community.
"It is sheer nonsense," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying when asked to comment on the allegation put forward by former US vice-president Dick Cheney and other US politicians.
Beijing has been tight-lipped about the saga since Snowden exposed details of the US surveillance programme last week. Hua said she had no information to offer on Snowden, who told the South China Morning Post that the US had been hacking networks in Hong Kong and the mainland since 2009.
"The US should pay attention to the concerns and demands of the international community and the public over the issue, and provide a necessary explanation to the international community," Hua said.
On Fox News Sunday, Cheney said Snowden was a traitor and he was worried that Snowden had additional information not yet released. China would "probably be willing to provide immunity for him or sanctuary for him in exchange for what he presumably knows or doesn't know", Cheney said.
An editorial in the mainland's Global Times yesterday said it would be unwise for Hong Kong to extradite Snowden, should the US make such a request, because it would tarnish Hong Kong's image as a city that upheld freedom.
"The consequences of extraditing Snowden back to the US would be more troublesome than the alternative, because the local reaction would bring more trouble to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland," it said. "On the other hand, Beijing needs to demonstrate it can't just be pushed around according to Washington's wishes."
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the Hong Kong government would do its best to uncover the truth about reports of hacking. "We are aware that the public are very concerned about internet safety issues," he said.
Observers said Beijing had trod carefully because it did not want to be seen as meddling in Hong Kong affairs or adversely affect Sino-US ties, especially after this month's summit between President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama. But Beijing was forced to respond because allegations had been made against China.
"Beijing is well aware that some US politicians want to divert attention at home by accusing Snowden of spying for China," said Pang Zhongying , an international relations professor at Renmin University.