June 14 (Bloomberg) -- China should seek more information from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and demand the U.S. explain itself over the surveillance program he exposed, the nation's government-controlled media said.
Snowden, 29, who fled to Hong Kong after revealing the NSA program, may provide evidence that China could use to negotiate with the U.S., the English-language Global Times newspaper said. The China Daily faulted the U.S. for accusing China of cyber-attacks while running its own hacking program.
“The United States owes China an explanation about its hacking activities and should show more sincerity in the future when engaging in cybersecurity cooperation,” China Daily said, citing Beijing-based experts.
Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA’s collection of telephone and Internet data provoked charges of hypocrisy among Chinese state media after President Barack Obama’s administration accused China in recent months of being behind a series of hacker attacks. The revelations may result in China seeking concessions if it’s to cooperate with any extradition request as part of a U.S. Justice Department probe into Snowden.
“China is going to cooperate with the U.S., but not for free,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. “China would like to get something in exchange.”
Since taking back control of Hong Kong from the U.K. in 1997, China has allowed the city to maintain broad autonomy and permits protests and dissent there that would be stifled in the mainland. While Hong Kong would decide on any U.S. request to extradite Snowden, China can refuse the transfer if it’s related to defense and foreign affairs.
China is following developments in Snowden’s case, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing today. She declined to comment when asked how China would respond to any U.S. extradition attempt.
“What cyberspace needs is not war or hegemony, not irresponsible attacks, but regulation and cooperation,” Hua said. She said China looks forward to more dialogue with the U.S. on cybersecurity.
Civic groups in Hong Kong plan to protest tomorrow to demand that Hong Kong grant Snowden asylum and call on the U.S. not to seek his extradition. About 500 people are expected to attend, said Damon Wong, a member of Hong Kong In-media, the main organizer of the event. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said in an interview with Bloomberg Television the city will handle the case according to the law.
“Hong Kong has no say whatsoever,” Hong Kong Legislative Council member Ronny Tong said on Bloomberg Television today. “That’s why you see our chief executive not saying anything at all. He is waiting instructions from Beijing. I think Beijing is sitting back, probably enjoying the moment, before deciding what they want to do next.”
Keywords related to Snowden’s name haven’t been banned on Sina Corp.’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog service, according to GreatFire.org, which monitors censored posts on the Internet.
Snowden was a former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency and had worked for the National Security Agency in the past four years for contractors including Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., according to the U.K. Guardian and the Washington Post, which originally reported his revelations about the NSA surveillance.
He fled to Hong Kong before naming himself as the source behind the stories in the Guardian and the Post. In an interview with the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, Snowden said the U.S. had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009.
Hong Kong lawmakers will request a debate over cybersecurity when the Legislative Council meets next, on June 19, according to proceedings of the legislature’s House Committee broadcast on Cable TV today.
Counterintelligence and criminal investigators in the U.S. are examining whether Snowden might have been recruited or exploited by China. The U.S. is working on “a thorough scrub” of Snowden’s possible ties to China, Representative Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters in Washington yesterday.
While China probably doesn’t want Snowden to enter the mainland, it probably wants to talk to him, said Liu Weidong, a scholar at the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
“It’s a good opportunity to learn something, to know something,” Liu said in a telephone interview today. “They will want to know some detailed information from him.”
Snowden’s revelations put the U.S. in an embarrassing situation and have fueled a debate over the balance between personal freedom and national security, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily newspaper said today. In its editorial, the Global Times said the Snowden case may test bilateral ties, adding that his revelations “upgraded our understanding of cyberspace.”
“The Chinese government should acquire more solid information from Snowden if he has it, and use it as evidence to negotiate with the U.S.,” the editorial said. “Snowden is a political offender against the U.S. but what he is doing benefits the world.”
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