While the decision by former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee Edward Snowden to flee to Hong Kong might end up posing a diplomatic headache for Beijing in coming weeks and months, the 29-year-old whistleblower's revelations have, for now, been welcomed by the Chinese government and State media.
For China, which has long been accused of mounting organised cyber attacks by the United States and other countries, Mr. Snowden's exposing of worldwide cyber surveillance activities by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been seen as some vindication, particularly after the former CIA employee revealed in Hong Kong earlier this week that those activities included hacking into Chinese servers.
While Communist Party-run newspapers on Friday called on the government to "explicitly demand a reasonable explanation" from the U.S. on its cyber activities, the Chinese Foreign Ministry here said Mr. Snowden's revelations had demonstrated that China was "one of the major victims" of hacking attacks.
"China has repeatedly said it is one of the major victims of cyber attacks," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing on Friday. "What has happened recently has also shown that China is indeed one of the major victims of cyber attacks. The international community should come up with regulations on cyber security".
Ms. Hua also made a pointed reference to recent statements from the U.S. accusing China of carrying out widespread cyber attacks against American government departments and companies.
"What cyberspace needs is not war or hegemony, not irresponsible attacks or accusations, but regulation and cooperation," Ms. Hua said.
China was of the view that "international regulations should be made within the framework of the United Nations". Beijing had made "specific proposals" towards that end, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry had recently set up an "office on cyber affairs" charged with diplomatic activities related to cyber security issues.
Chinese State media outlets, which initially did not report on the case, have given considerable coverage to Mr. Snowden's revelations since Thursday, pointing out that the U.S, too, carried out surveillance activities on its soil, although the workings of China's own vast security apparatus are rarely reported on by domestic media outlets.
The Global Times, a tabloid known for its nationalistic views, in an editorial on Friday called on the Chinese government to "explicitly demand a reasonable explanation from the U.S government" regarding Mr. Snowden's claims that the U.S had been "hacking servers in the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong for years".
"Snowden's revelation... is closely related to Chinese national interests. The Chinese government should acquire more solid information from Snowden if he has it, and use it as evidence to negotiate with the US," the newspaper said, adding that "such acts will not harm the Sino-American relationship, as one can assume that the US would do the same to China."
The newspaper hailed Mr. Snowden, saying that though he "is a political offender against the US… what he is doing benefits the world."
The Global Times acknowledged that Beijing could face a tricky diplomatic test in deciding Mr. Snowden's fate. Should the U.S. choose to put in an extradition request to Hong Kong, which has in the past closely cooperated with Washington on criminal cases, Beijing might end up having a say in deciding Mr. Snowden's fate.
While the central government can intervene in extradition cases if it deems that they may have an impact on its foreign policy or defence interests, analysts say China is unlikely to do so, considering its overall ties with the U.S and existing sensitivities in Hong Kong over Beijing's interference.
"Whether the Chinese government agrees to extradite Snowden back to the US will directly impact their bilateral relationship, which has seen a good start after the Xi-Obama meeting [in the U.S last week]," The Global Times said.
"But a positive relationship should not prevent Beijing from being dynamic and fact-oriented when dealing with specific conflicts. Public opinion will turn against China's central government and the Hong Kong SAR government if they choose to send him back".
The editorial hit out at "the U.S' hypocrisy and arrogance".
"Snowden's exposure has upgraded our understanding of cyberspace, especially cyber attacks from the US, which is probably a much sharper weapon than its traditional military force". "Besides Snowden's disclosure," the paper added, "it is still unknown what else the US, a country which once condemned China for cyber attacks, has done to China".