China Says U.S. Should Explain Itself Over Surveillance Claims

China called on the U.S. to explain a surveillance program that was revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, whose whereabouts the White House said remain unknown after he fled to Hong Kong.

The U.S. should pay attention to concerns over the surveillance program and “give the international community a necessary explanation,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing today.

Hua’s demand marked China’s first comment on Snowden beyond that the country was following developments in his case since he identified himself as the source for revelations about an NSA program to collect telephone and Internet data. Chinese state media have said the government should seek more information from him and said he exposed U.S. rights violations.

“China’s internal public opinion, the media feedback, they all put pressure on China, which so far has been trying to quietly manage the issue,” said Zhang Baohui, an associate professor of political science at Lingnan University in Hong Kong.

Snowden’s disclosures to the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper and the Washington Post have triggered a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, though there’s been no extradition request to Hong Kong so far. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Snowden said the U.S. had been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009.

In an editorial published today, China’s government-controlled Global Times newspaper said extraditing Snowden would be an “unwise decision” because the response would bring trouble to Hong Kong and the mainland. China took back sovereignty of Hong Kong from the U.K. in 1997.

Betraying Trust

“Extraditing Snowden back to the U.S. would not only be a betrayal of Snowden’s trust, but a disappointment for expectations around the world,” the Global Times said.

Snowden’s disclosures earlier 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

Speaking in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” White House chief of staff Denis McDonough declined to say whether there are plans to prosecute Snowden.

Representative Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence committee, said Snowden is wrongly portraying himself as a whistle blower. He told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that Snowden “bolted to China and decided he was going to disclose sensitive national security information that benefits China and other nations.”

Asked at today’s briefing whether Snowden was a Chinese spy, Hua responded: “I think it is completely groundless.”

PRISM Program

Snowden’s leaks revealed how the NSA collects data under a U.S. government program code-named PRISM. Apple Inc., the world’s most-valuable technology company, said in a statement that it received as many as 5,000 requests for customer information from U.S. law enforcement authorities.

Snowden’s revelations continued over the weekend. Yesterday, the Guardian, citing an NSA briefing leaked by Snowden, said American spies in the U.K. had intercepted secret communications by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev when he attended a Group of 20 summit in London in 2009.

The same day, again citing Snowden, the Guardian reported that the computers and phone calls of other foreign politicians attending the summit were monitored.

— With assistance by Michael Forsythe, and Simon Lee

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