For more, see Daily Specials: World reacts to Edward Snowden's leak
More than 20 public organizations in Hong Kong launched a demonstration last weekend, backing ex-CIA whistle-blower Edward Snowden. In the meantime, Leung Chun-ying, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, has said that the government will handle it "in accordance with the laws and established procedures of Hong Kong." A poll initiated by the South China Morning Post shows that more than half the Hong Kongers surveyed are opposed to extraditing Snowden back to the US. But Beijing has not yet made an explicit statement.
Washington must be grinding its teeth because Snowden's revelations have almost overturned the image of the US as the defender of a free Internet. After losing this image, which has been abused by the US government to boss others around, there is no way it won't want Snowden to be extradited.
However, it would be a face-losing outcome for both the Hong Kong SAR government and the Chinese Central government if Snowden is extradited back to the US. Unlike a common criminal, Snowden did not hurt anybody. His "crime" is that he blew the whistle on the US government's violation of civil rights. His action supported "human rights" as defined in the UN Charter, and has been applauded worldwide.
Snowden believes in the democracy and freedom of Hong Kong. His whistle-blowing is in the global public interest. Therefore, extraditing Snowden back to the US would not only be a betrayal of Snowden's trust, but a disappointment for expectations around the world. The image of Hong Kong would be forever tarnished.
Diplomatically, Snowden has cast a shadow over the new Sino-US relationship right after the Xi-Obama meeting. The sooner the incident is wrapped up, the better the ties between the two countries will be.
Cyber attacks, a weapon frequently used by the US government, have turned out to be its own Achilles' heel. China is generous enough not to hype this incident in consideration of the Sino-US relationship.
The Chinese government has no responsibility to help the US quench the fire.
Sino-US ties have their own flexibility. On the one hand, under pressure from public opinion, Washington must have made preparations in case it can't extradite Snowden. On the other hand, Beijing needs to demonstrate it can't just be pushed according to Washington's wishes.
The consequences of extraditing Snowden back to the US would be more troublesome than the alternative, because the local reaction would bring more trouble to Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland.
China's growing power is attracting people to seek asylum in China. This is unavoidable and should be used to accumulate moral standing.
The "no comment" attitude of the Chinese Central government and the ambiguous statements from the Hong Kong administration are the proper responses. China should follow public opinion and safeguard its interests.