How Snowden has been good for Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 June, 2013, 10:36am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Before US whistle-blower Edward Snowden hightailed it from Chek Lap Kok, it was unclear whether his choice of temporary refuge would be good or bad for Hong Kong. The threat of Beijing intervention in the extradition case and "bullying" from Washington could have put Hong Kong in an awkward position.

But his flight to Moscow on Sunday has shown that the Hong Kong government has gumption.

After news of Snowden’s departure broke, the government released a statement that The Atlantic called “an artfully worded ‘screw you’ to the United States”:

Meanwhile, the HKSAR Government has formally written to the US Government requesting clarification on earlier reports about the hacking of computer systems in Hong Kong by US government agencies. The HKSAR Government will continue to follow up on the matter so as to protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong.

Others also gave the government credit for the statement's wording in pointing out that it was looking for answers about US hacking on computer systems in Hong Kong.

The Atlantic also noted that:

This defiance of the United States, with which Hong Kong had negotiated an extradition treaty, is extraordinary and somewhat unexpected.

The Snowden case comes at the a time of a growing sense of identity in Hong Kong separate from mainland China. A poll last week found that Hongkongers’ sense of Chinese identity had fallen to a 14-year low. The city is also preparing for its annual July 1 march to mark the 16th anniversary of the British handover.

Another good outcome from Snowden’s visit was the brief alliance of Hong Kong’s political factions. The South China Morning Post’s Stuart Lau wrote this week:

Snowden's arrival in the city gave Hong Kong a rare place in the global geopolitical spotlight and ushered in near-unprecedented political solidarity as pan-democrats and Beijing loyalists lined up to take a shot at an unlikely target: the United States.

Lau notes that many of the city’s lawmakers - Beijing-loyalists and pan-democrats - came together to criticise the US government on the cyberspying allegations.

Snowden is like that Rubber Duck art installation: here one day, then gone, leaving a trail of lessons learned.