Beijing has right to offer Snowden political asylum

By Eric Sommer Source:Global Times Published: 2013-6-24 22:53:01

Read more in Special Coverage:

The US announcement of an arrest warrant for Edward Snowden last Friday lends new urgency to the question of whether the Chinese government or other governments will offer him asylum.  

Snowden has left Hong Kong, reportedly bound for Venezuela via Russia and Cuba. However, it is not too late for the Chinese government to consider offering asylum to whistle-blowers like him.  

Snowden is a former worker for the US National Security Agency (NSA). He arrived in Hong Kong a few weeks ago and began exposing a secret and massive worldwide cyber-surveillance and cyber-spying of the NSA on its own people and on the world.  

The exposures include serious violations by the NSA of the US constitution and of the sovereignty rights of other nations including China. 

These violations included massive secret hacking of US citizens' phone calls, emails, and other online activities; extensive hacking of computers of Chinese mobile operators and the resulting theft of millions of Chinese text messages; and massive US hacking of computer systems at Tsinghua University, one of Chinas' most prestigious university, computer systems which service a large part of China's universities and sensitive government and military research projects. How would the US government react if a foreign power made such break-ins at Harvard?

Snowden is not a common criminal but a political refugee. And asylum for political refugees is a normal part of international life. Last year the US for example, granted asylum to 9,500 Chinese who wished to live in the US and claimed, rightly or wrongly, to be political refugees.

The US, EU countries, and others all routinely offer asylum to political refugees and individuals accused in their home countries of political crimes.  

Imagine that the situation was reversed, that a Chinese citizen fled to the US with documentary proof of a vast worldwide Chinese cyber-surveillance and cyber-spying program, like the one Snowden exposed, which included hundreds of break-ins of sensitive US computers and the theft of millions of text messages.

In such circumstances, would the US government send that person back to China? It is virtually certain that individual would be granted refugee status.

At this point the Chinese central government has made no announcement on possible asylum for Snowden. But the US government should not be shocked or surprised if, even though he has now left Hong Kong, the Chinese central government chooses to offer temporary or permanent refuge status in China to Snowden, who both inside and outside the US is a hero to tens of millions of global citizens who abhor the attempts of the US government to dominate both the real world and the cyber world.

Eric Sommer, a Canadian scholar living in Beijing

Posted in: Viewpoint

blog comments powered by Disqus