There was no legal basis not to let Edward Snowden, the former US intelligence contractor who leaked state secrets, leave Hong Kong, the territory’s Chief Executive said on Monday.
“We were asking the United States government for further important information on the case and there was no legal basis to stop Mr Snowden from leaving Hong Kong,” Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive said.
Officially, Snowden was able to leave Hong Kong because US authorities made a mistake in their arrest request, but the semiautonomous Chinese city also indicated displeasure over Snowden’s revelation that the former British colony had been a target of American hacking.
Beijing, meanwhile, says it had nothing to do with allowing the former National Security Agency contractor to fly to Russia on Sunday.
But analysts believe the move was orchestrated by China to avoid a prolonged diplomatic tussle with the US over his extradition.
Snowden slipped out of Hong Kong on an Aeroflot flight to Moscow and was expected to transit through Cuba and Venezuela en route to possible asylum in Ecuador.
His journey illustrates how the US finds itself with few friends as it tries to apprehend the former CIA technician, who disclosed information on top-secret surveillance programmes.
The revelations ratcheted up tensions between Washington and Beijing, which for months has been trying to counter US accusations that its government and military are behind computer-based attacks against America.
The Hong Kong government said it allowed Snowden to leave because the US request to provisionally arrest Snowden did not comply with legal requirements.
At the same time, however, it mentioned that it asked the US for more information on the hacking, suggesting the issue played some role in its decision.
While Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy from the rest of China, experts said Beijing orchestrated Snowden’s exit to remove an irritant in Sino-US relations.
Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the city is allowed a high degree of autonomy from mainland Chinese authorities until 2047.
“This is a good example to illustrate ‘one country, two systems’, Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, and the high degree of autonomy that we have,” Leung said.
It also has its own legal and financial system, a holdover from the British colonial rule that ended in 1997.
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