The front pages of Chinese state media were covered Thursday with the allegations of ex-CIA employee Edward Snowden, who says the U.S. government has been hacking computers in China for years.
Snowden is currently holed up in Hong Kong, where he fled after leaking top-secret documents that exposed surveillance programs carried out by the National Security Agency, where he had also worked as a contractor.
The 29-year-old on Wednesday told a newspaper in Hong Kong that he plans to stay in the former British colony and fight efforts to bring him back to the U.S. for criminal proceedings.
Speaking with the English-language South China Morning Post, Snowden said the NSA has been hacking computers in Hong Kong and mainland China since 2009. He said targets include public officials, businesses and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Those claims by Snowden were the top story on most of China's major news portals on Thursday, including on the front page of both the Chinese-language print version and and English-language online version of the Communist Party-controlled Global Times.
The official China Daily also prominently featured a piece quoting Chinese analysts who said Snowden's revelations are "certain to stain Washington's overseas image and test developing Sino-U.S. ties."
Until now, Chinese officials and newspapers on the mainland had stayed relatively quiet on the issue. But its increased prominence Thursday suggests Beijing is willing to use Snowden's revelations of the U.S. surveillance programs to defend its own massive cyber security operations.
The development could complicate Washington's efforts to hold China accountable for alleged widespread Chinese cyber espionage and theft against U.S. targets. It could also provide ammunition for Beijing to defend its own massive domestic surveillance efforts.
The U.S. spy programs have already been criticized by some privacy and civil rights advocates in China, including dissident artist Ai Weiwei. In a Tuesday opinion piece in The Guardian, Ai said the U.S. initiatives are "abusively using government powers to interfere in individuals' privacy."
Ai, who is one of the most well-known critics of China's extensive system of online censorship, said the U.S. should not take advantage of its technological power, saying it could encourage other nations to do the same.
The documents Snowden leaked provided information on how the NSA collects and monitors telephone records and and Internet content. Washington officials, who have confirmed the programs, have said they are not being misused and are necessary to stop terrorist attacks.