, BEIJING, Jun 24 – China on Monday sidestepped allegations it orchestrated the departure of former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden from Hong Kong, which infuriated Washington after it had requested his arrest and extradition.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying refused to directly comment on the affair at a regular press briefing in Beijing, or provide details on any role Beijing played in Snowden’s flight to Moscow on Sunday.
“The central government of China always respects the Hong Kong SAR government’s handling of the relevant case,” she said, referring reporters to Hong Kong’s statement Sunday which said he departed through “legal and normal means”.
Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the handover agreement that governed its transfer from British rule in 1997, but Beijing retains control over its defence and foreign policy, and the right to veto extradition decisions.
Analysts have speculated that Beijing intervened in Snowden’s case, due to its potential to create a drawn-out legal saga that would strain relations between the US and China.
US Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said Hong Kong’s decision to allow the former CIA agent to leave came as a “very big surprise”.
“China clearly had a role in this, in my view. I don’t think this was just Hong Kong without Chinese acquiescence, she said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” programme.
Hong Kong lawmaker Albert Ho, who acted as Snowden’s lawyer in the city, said on Monday he suspected that Beijing had engineered the exit.
“The Hong Kong government has no power to decide or say anything whatsoever,” said the respected pro-democracy figure.
Snowden is expected to head for asylum in Ecuador, in a dramatic flight after Washington charged him with espionage over his leaks on a global spying and hacking programme.
His shock departure has disappointed rights advocates in the southern Chinese city, after he initially said he would stay and fight extradition in what would have been an important test for Hong Kong’s judicial independence.