Activist Edward Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong as a hideaway came as a surprise to many of the territories’ citizens. It brought a sense of renewed relevance to the place for some here, who, while happy that Hong Kong is far away from the world’s chaotic tumult so evident today, have some excitement in the fact we are now highlighted on the world’s media.
While the issue itself of bringing information to the public domain that was classified and termed secret information by the USA government is not of direct consequence to Hong Kong, Mr Snowden’s choice of Hong Kong in itself tells a story of the real freedoms that exist here.
Should Mr Snowden enter the refugee programed he is guaranteed years of security-of-place if not security-of-cash-flow because the refugee procedures here are antiquated and not at all covered by legislation. The advantage for the government is, as was learned at the time of the huge Vietnamese refugee influx decades ago with the policy of making life as uncomfortable as possible for refugees word would get back to Vietnam and the inflow would cease… It worked. But not for the refugees.
The legislative and regulatory lack, which seems to be supported by the UNHCR which back-burners all applications in a killingly slow process, could be very useful for Mr Snowden. What he needs is time to get the focus on the context beyond the simple fact of his release of classified information, to debate the bigger picture – the scandal of excessive and undisciplined and unregulated surveillance of the USA government on the world’s peoples and it’s own citizens.
The question is, when found by the police and there is no doubt Hong Kong’s finest will not take long for that, what will the Hong Kong government do with him? There is an extradition agreement between Hong Kong and the USA but extradition will be against the wishes of Edward Snowden and many locals – who are still dazed a bit by the turn-of-events but who always rally to the cause of Hong Kong’s special rights under the fifty-year agreement with Beijing.
It is not a light matter, even for Beijing, on recalling what took place in February last year when former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun reportedly sought asylum at the US consulate in Chengdu, taking information implicating his former boss, disgraced Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai , in various offences. Wang did leave the consulate voluntarily it is said and was handed over to state security officials to be jailed for 15 years on charges including bribery and attempted defection.
The there was the case of blind Shandong activist Chen Guangcheng who fled house arrest and went to the US embassy in Beijing. While at first the two nations first struck deals that allowed Chen to remain in China, Chen said he was intimidated into accepting that deal and now chose to go to the USA. Chen was put on a plane to the USA a month later.
Both cases proved uncomfortable to both governments.
Mr Snowden has switched hotels to avoid media attention and his whereabouts are unknown but Hong Kong is a very small place and that situation is short lived. He joins the ranks of Bradley Manning, who was thrown into the brig and is likely to get a long jail sentence, and Julian Assange, presently a long-stay guest of the Embassy of Ecuador in London, as another of a new kind of dissident.
It would be interesting if Edward Snowden was allowed to take full advantage of Hong Kong’s freedoms and if Beijing also allowed Hong Kong to make it’s own decisions but only if the top echelon of our government listened to the people, and not to their own fears… If they second guess what Beijing might want could be everyone gets shot in the foot. There is grave danger in self censorship. The government here needs to take responsibility according to the autonomous character of Hong Kong under the set style of the SAR, of China.