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Snags in American bid to extradite whistleblower

Hong Kong may not prove to be a haven for US whistleblower Edward Snowden, but any extradition bid will be long and complicated, according to experts in a city that cherishes civic freedoms despite Chinese sovereignty.

Snowden, a 29-year-old government contractor, is believed to be in the southern Chinese city after leaking details of a secret US Internet surveillance programme. The former CIA technical assistant disclosed his role in a video interview from Hong Kong posted on the website of The Guardian newspaper Sunday, saying he chose the city as a refuge because of its ‘strong tradition of free speech’.

Hong Kong and the US signed an extradition treaty a year before the territory was handed over from Britain to China in 1997. But the treaty, signed with Beijing’s ‘authorisation’, gives the right to refusal should extradition impinge on the ‘defence, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy’ of China.

This effectively means Beijing, which maintains control over Hong Kong’s foreign relations and  defence policy, has a veto. Snowden’s revelations come just after US president Barack Obama and China’s leader Xi Jinping eld their first summit where they talked bluntly on issues such as cybersecurity but also forged a personal rapport.

Political analyst Johnny Lau said that the two countries, who have a range of difficult economic and security affairs to navigate, have little motivation to stir trouble over the Snowden case. ‘We have to look at the interests involved. 

This is only a minor episode and it is not going to affect the big setting where China and US cooperate,’ the veteran China-watcher said. Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory with its own political system that guarantees civil liberties not seen on the mainland. 
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