Foreign Ministry has "no information to offer" on communication from the U.S. on Edward Snowden
China on Thursday declined to comment on whether it would involve itself in the case of Edward Snowden, the former Central Intelligence Agency Employee (CIA) employee who last month fled to Hong Kong, but hit out at Washington’s “double standards” in the wake of fresh revelations about a widespread domestic and overseas cyber surveillance programme.
Mr. Snowden (29), who left Hawaii on May 20, told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post in an interview published on Thursday that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been hacking into computers in Hong Kong and on the Chinese mainland for years. In the interview, the whistleblower said he was prepared to fight any extradition requests from the U.S., expressing faith in Hong Kong’s judicial system.
Mr. Snowden’s fate could, however, also be decided by Beijing, which can intervene in extradition cases handled by the Chinese Special Administrative Region (SAR) if it deems that a case impacts its defence, foreign affairs or “essential” public interest.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday only said it had “no information to offer” when asked if Beijing had received any communication from the U.S. on the case, and how the Chinese government would respond.
Spokesperson Hua Chunying did, however, tell reporters Beijing had noted Mr. Snowden’s latest comments about U.S. activities aimed at Hong Kong and China.
“As we have repeatedly said, China is also one of the major victims of hacking and cyber attacks. China strongly advocates cyber security. We think that in terms of cyber security, the international community should carry out constructive dialogue and cooperation to jointly maintain peace, security, openness and cooperation of cyberspace".
Mr. Snowden’s revelations have appeared to boost China's position amid recent tensions with the U.S. on the issue of cybersecurity. While Washington has accused China of mounting organised hacking attacks targeting both government agencies and companies, Beijing has maintained that it was also the victim of similar attacks.
The revelations about the NSA's programmes coincided with talks last week between President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in California, during which the issue of cybersecurity featured prominently.
Ms. Hua said Mr. Xi had raised China's concerns during the talks, making the argument that "China is a victim of cyberattacks, but we also advocate cyber security".
She said China would "also like to carry out constructive dialogue and cooperation with countries including the U.S. based on mutual respect, mutual benefit and mutual trust", pointing out that both countries had agreed to establish a cyber security working group towards that end.
"We also think adoption of double standards," she added, "will bring no benefit to settlement of the relevant issue".
Diplomats here say Beijing is unlikely to directly involve itself in Mr. Snowden's case, taking into account its wider ties with Washington and also the recent sensitivities in Hong Kong over the Central government's perceived interference on a number of issues.
The State-run China Daily said in an article on Thursday the issue would test Sino-U.S. ties. Zhang Tuosheng, a researcher at the China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies, told the newspaper cybersecurity "is still proving to be a new realm for cooperation between China and the U.S., especially in the wake of this surveillance controversy".
"Beijing and Washington, instead of criticising each other while hiding their own problems, should work together to facilitate a series of well-observed regulations," he said.
Li Haidong, a scholar at China Foreign Affairs University, added that "the United States is now stuck in the awkward position of having to explain itself to its citizens and the world following the exposure of Washington's vast Internet snooping program".
"For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage," he said, "but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government."