Here's What China Thinks of Ed Snowden and the NSA

From Washington to Hong Kong and back again, a lot of people are saying Snowden made a mistake in picking his hideout. But what are the Chinese papers saying about their 29-year-old Deep Throat in residence? And do they have any more news on his extradition? Also: Where is this guy anyway?

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Edward Snowden might be looking for free-speech protection and human-rights understanding in all the wrong places. The NSA whistleblower is in Hong Kong, which has, for almost 16 years, been part of China — one of the least sympathetic places when it comes to respecting the rules of speaking your mind. From Washington to Hong Kong and back again, a lot of people are saying Snowden made a mistake. But what are the Chinese papers saying about their 29-year-old Deep Throat in residence? And do they have any more news on his extradition? Also: Where is this guy anyway? Well, for starters, their cartoons were already pretty good:

Calling a Spy a Spy

That's running in the Global Times, the tabloid arm of The People's Daily, which is run by the Communist Party of China. That's the same paper with an editorial stating that "Web regulation [is] in [the] public's best interest" on June 4 — the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. And they turned the bald eagle into a spy! The cartoon is running under the headline "The latest online spy game," a reference to the ongoing stalemate between China and the U.S. on the topic of cyberwarfare, on which there was reportedly little progress between Presidents Obama and Xi at a weekend summit.

Perhaps more appropriate was this cartoon by Harry Harrison in Hong Kong's English-languge South China Morning Post:

That cartoon ran on June 3, and it's actually in reference to a story in The Washington Post — the one that reported Chinese hackers had stolen and compromised sophisticated U.S. weapons designs. That was also in anticipation of the Obama-Xi summit. And it ran before all of the NSA stuff went down. That's when things got interesting....

Chinese State-Run Papers Are Not Treating This Like a Big Deal

While the Hong Kong-based press is big on its big new story, the mainland, well, not so much. If you look at The People's Daily's stories concerning the United States that ran yesterday and today, you'll notice a surprising Snowden shortfall — perhaps due to the abundance of updates on the Obama meetings:

And if you head over to Xinhua, a state-run paper, you'll notice that there's no mention of Snowden in the top 10 stories on the site's front page. There's not even really a Xinhua report to be had on Snowden — there's something on the NSA as a "spy agency" categorized as a video report. In that category, which isn't advertised on Xinhua's front page, it's at least the top story (pictured at right). Whether that's a conscious news/propaganda decision to order to avoid sparking a conversation that might come back to China — well, it's hard to tell, and it's still a bit early in the news cycle. But remember this is the United States and digital intelligence and, the Chinese government has accused the U.S. of hacking its sites, and this Snowden thing is the biggest hacking leak story in U.S. history, apparently, so you'd think China's papers wouldn't shy away from the opportunity to make this a bigger deal.

In Hong Kong, There Aren't Any Clear Answers if Snowden Will Be Extradited

Papers in Hong Kong are just as interested as people in the U.S. in figuring out if Snowden can stay in the region. But the answers abroad aren't any clearer than they are here. Resident Atlantic China guru James Fallows writes: "if Snowden thinks, as some of his comments seem to suggest, that he has found a bastion of freer speech, then he is ill-informed; and if he knowingly chose to make his case from China he is playing a more complicated game."

As our Dashiell Bennett pointed out, Snowden's decision to go to Hong Kong may have been a mistake from an extradition standpoint. But papers in Hong Kong are still trying to figure out if there are any loopholes. Ming Pao, a Chinese-language paper, has found one of those loopholes, and it involves getting the United Nations involved. Via Google Translate:

James explained that Hong Kong should not be given political asylum, but any person in Hong Kong may apply for political refugee status with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ... the Government will not deport people who are awaiting approval... 

Yes, that's a pretty rough translation. But it does line up with analysis from The Guardian, which was the home of Snowden's leaks and which notes that he is guaranteed to have some kind of legal process: "While the UNHCR can still make decisions on cases, the March ruling means that those who are rejected have the right to have their case considered by Hong Kong officials."

The South China Morning Post is also tackling all angles of speculation, again making the point that Snowden's best move is going to the U.N. and apply for refugee status: "With the reports about the treatment of Bradley Manning, there's an arguable case for him facing CIDTP [cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment]," one expert told the SCMP. The paper also got an unnamed European diplomat to sum up the irony in this case, quite brilliantly: "A human rights case in which the Chinese grant asylum to an American — what a master stroke for Beijing."

The Hunt for Snowden's Hotel Is On

In Hong Kong, Snowden is sending reporters into a frenzy from one posh hotel to another, seeking the man with even more leaks. First stop? The W Hotel. Here are the SCMP's detective skills at work, determining where Snowden's coming-out video interview took place and where Glen Greenwald, the journalist who busted this thing wide open, was staying:

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald was staying on the hotel’s 19th floor at the time, but it could not be confirmed exactly where the interview took place ...

A spokeswoman from the W Hotel said they had no record of a guest by the name of Edward Snowden.

The catch-me-if-you-can chase then moved on to the equally-posh Mira Hotel:

As to Snowden's whereabouts in Hong Kong, Snowden had been staying at the Mira Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. The hotel said that he checked out at around 12 noon on Monday and that he had been registered under his own name.

If Greenwald is to be believed, the Chinese papers will have a few more stories on their hands in the days ahead: "There are several programs that we've reported on so far and there's a lot more coming," he said on Morning Joe today. Way more:

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.