The NSA leaks: Edward Snowden

Is Edward Snowden’s arrival in Hong Kong good or bad for the territory?  Let us take a look at the possibilities:


ONE. Snowden flees Hong Kong for yet another location.  This is a good possibility, as Snowden himself has expressed interest in other countries, specifically Iceland, where he has the support of at least one legislator, or Ecuador, whose embassy in London is currently housing Wikileaks’ Assange.  One should note, however, that Hong Kong is a member of INTERPOL, meaning that if a red notice has already been released for Snowden, he could very well be arrested at the airport.

TWO. Hong Kong extradites Snowden.  This would likely involve a lesser crime first such as “accessing a computer with criminal or dishonest intent“, leaving the more serious charges to be laid after Snowden is back in the US.  While extradition would inevitably disappoint Snowden’s supporters, the prolonged court proceedings will keep Hong Kong in the spotlight, with the focus being on whether our courts are truly independent and free from mainland interference.


THREE. Hong Kong approves the extradition of Snowden to the US, but is overruled by China.  First of all, it raises the question of whether Snowden would be allowed to stay in Hong Kong anyway as he still would not have right of abode.  If Snowden ends up being taken in by the mainland, it would be extremely ironic, as he would have escaped the clutches of a police state only to find himself in an even more oppressive police state.  It would also be very embarrassing for Hong Kong to be overruled by China, more so than the original decision to turn Snowden in.

FOUR. Hong Kong rejects the US’ application to extradite Snowden.  There is then the question of what to do with him.  The most likely case will be that Hong Kong will forward Snowden to another country provided one promises to host him.  This is the scenario Snowden should probably be hoping for.


FIVE. Hong Kong allows the US to rendition Snowden in secret.  This extralegal option, if discovered by the press, would completely destroy any perceptions of the rule of law in Hong Kong, already in tatters after a similar tactic was employed against Libyan dissident Sami al-Saadi and his family in 2004.  However, the case of Saadi was not uncovered until Saadi himself re-emerged from a new, Gaddafi-free Libya, so it’s totally possible that the government would try this method again in hopes they’ll get away with it this time.  Snowden could fight extralegal rendition by keeping a high profile, but this leaves him in danger of the next scenario.

SIX. Snowden is assassinated while in Hong Kong.  No one would believe that this would be a random attack, making Hong Kong look really, really bad for allowing the US to conduct illegal activities on its turf without its knowledge.  This is in fact probably the worst-case scenario for Hong Kong, even more so than number five above.

SEVEN. Snowden seeks asylum in Hong Kong, superseding any attempts to extradite him.  This is highly unlikely, though.  It is common knowledge that Hong Kong has a very poor system (if one can even call it a system) of handling asylum seekers.  Refugees are not allowed to seek employment while the government “handles” (i.e ignores) their cases, forcing them to work illegally while living in dangerous shanty houses in the New Territories or on the rooftops of old urban buildings.  Neither would it reflect well on Hong Kong if Snowden’s high profile affords him preferential treatment within the system.

EIGHT. Snowden holes up in a Hong Kong consulate, Assange-style.  This then becomes a matter between the US and the government of the corresponding consulate.  This is very risky for Snowden, however, as there is no guarantee that his chosen consulate will protect him indefinitely.

While risky for Snowden, it seems that an Assange-style hole-up is the best option for Hong Kong, as the Hong Kong government can rightly say it has no power to do anything about it and eventually people will stop paying attention.  It is not every day that I think to myself, “oh yeah, Assange is still living in that embassy in London.”


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