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US raises war of words with HK over Snowden – China guilty of ‘misbehavior': Envoy

International 2


HONG KONG: The United States yesterday accused Hong Kong of acting in bad faith over fugitive Edward Snowden and warned of repercussions, after the city's government said US arrest paperwork was riddled with clerical errors. US envoy Stephen Young also said China was guilty of "misbehavior" over the former NSA contractor's abrupt departure from Hong Kong last Sunday, but said the territory itself would bear the brunt of Washington's displeasure. Hong Kong officials say that a US request a week ago asking for Snowden to be detained was woefully deficient, and there was no legal basis to stop him flying to Russia.

But Young, who retires at the end of July, said Washington was busy "dotting the i's and crossing the t's" in what it took to be a normal process of communication under the two sides' extradition agreement. "They've been throwing out some arguments as to what was going on. But frankly I don't think we had a good-faith partner throughout that process," the consul-general told foreign reporters, accusing Hong Kong of "obfuscating" the real issues. Snowden abandoned his high-paying job as an IT technician contracted to the National Security Agency and went to Hong Kong on May 20. He then began issuing a series of leaks on the NSA's global gathering of phone call logs and Internet data, including in China and Hong Kong.

US administration officials allege that Hong Kong, backed by Beijing, wanted to remove an irritant and was bent on letting Snowden leave regardless of the US indictment. Young said the city's handling of the case had left a "very bitter taste in American policymakers' mouths" and "injected a tone of distrust that I think is going to take time and effort to erase".

Given the huge range of Sino-US interests, ranging from North Korea to bilateral trade, "we'll get over China's misbehavior; we expect less from China too". But Hong Kong could not expect to continue being treated as a special case lying at one remove from the rest of China, the envoy said. "I certainly personally would hate to see a situation where we decide to treat Hong Kong like just another part of China. So the question is how do we get out of this, and I don't know."

On Tuesday, Hong Kong's Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen said US suggestions that the government connived in Snowden's departure were "totally untrue". The paperwork sent by US government agencies listed three different versions of Snowden's full name and failed to give his passport number, Yuen said. And on Thursday, the Hong Kong government said it had only just received a State Department notification that Snowden's US passport had been cancelled-five days after he boarded a flight to Moscow, where he remains holed up.

Lawmakers from both sides of the semi-autonomous territory's pro-democracy and pro-Beijing divide have united in lashing out at the US accusations. One told Friday's South China Morning Post that the US arrest paperwork was "sloppy", and another argued that Washington was "shameless" after Snowden alleged that the NSA's targets for eavesdropping included Hong Kong's main Internet exchange.

Some Hong Kong lawmakers fear that Washington could hit back by stripping the city from a visa-free entry programme for travel to the United States, under legislation now going through Congress. The visa waiver for Hong Kong appeared to have survived intact in the Senate version of an ambitious immigration bill that passed on Thursday. But the bill must still go through the House of Representatives, where there is bitter opposition to its provisions to legalize millions of illegal immigrants, and where the Hong Kong visa exemption could flare up for debate. - AFP




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This article was published on 28/06/2013