Since the Guardian reported that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had sought refuge from US authorities in Hong Kong, the reaction of netizens worldwide has been one of confusion. Why would a man responsible for revealing the extent of US digital surveillance on the grounds of privacy and freedom of expression go to a special administrative region of China, where such values are consistently suppressed?
Hong Kong signed an extradition treaty with the US in 1996, a year before the former British colony was handed back to the Chinese government. As part of the handover, Hong Kong was granted self-governing rights under a “one nation two systems” policy, which includes almost every aspect of rule except military and foreign affairs.
Snowden’s reasons for choosing Hong Kong may have included its determination to stand up for freedom of expression—for example, the city tolerates annual vigils in memory of a 1989 crackdown at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, which often include anti-China rhetoric. But extradition experts like Robert Anello, a New York lawyer, believe that Hong Kong is unlikely to protect the whistleblower. “They’re not going to put at risk their relationship with the US over Mr Snowden,” he told Reuters.